Tracking pitches

Baseball pitching counts, rules affecting area schools

Mike Mattson | Daily Press Bark River-Harris starting pitcher Sam Hall checks a runner at first base in Tuesday’s first game against North Central. All high school pitchers will have their pitches counted and monitored this season.

ESCANABA – What really counts this high school baseball season are pitches.

Area coaches will be sorting out new pitching rules adopted by the Michigan High School Athletic Association, under a mandate from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Daily pitch counts will be recorded and monitored in a move designed to protect the arms of high school pitchers.

For coaches, it means more paperwork, monitoring, strategy, and ultimately, more development of pitching depth in their programs.

And the new pitching rules will affect both big and small schools.

“It’s going to affect a lot of programs because you are going to have to get six, seven, eight pitchers deep,” Gladstone coach Don Lauscher said. “You have so many games in a week. So now with the pitch count it really limits how many pitches you can throw in a week and how many pitchers you need.”

“You will need more arms,” Escanaba coach Kirk Schwalbach said.

“You will have to stay on top of it. Not that we didn’t do it before. Our rule was when a kid got to 85 (pitches) I wanted to know. We’re not in the business of burning kids arms here.”

Under the former rules, a pitcher had to sit out two days after recording 30 outs. The new rules have created a tier of days rest required based upon how many pitches a high school player throws.

For example, 25 pitches or less means no days of rest are required. But 76 to 105 pitches means three days of rest are required.

The maximum number of pitches a player can throw is 105 in one day.

A pitch does not include warmup pitches, throws to first, balks, pitches thrown after time is called or deliveries in practice or a scrimmage.

In prior years, baseball teams could ride two or three pitchers to the Final Four.

Not anymore.

“Where it’s really going to affect the pitching staff is when you get beyond the regional level because at the district level you play two games and you are off for one week,” Lauscher said. “Then regionals are played the following weekend. But here’s where it gets sticky. After your regional game you only have two days and then you play in the quarterfinals (Tuesday). A lot of people with two days rest went right back to their No. 1, and now by rule, you can’t do that.

“So you are going to have to have four, five pitchers deep in order to make it to the state finals. To me, I like that. Pitch count is the way to go. It’s tough on coaches, but what it does is it makes you a better coach because now you have to breed pitching from the youth level all the way up.”

Teams will be responsible for monitoring their own pitch counts and then verifying with the opposing team. Verification is done after each half inning. Umpires also are not involved in monitoring pitch counts.

Pitch counts are recorded per day when teams play doubleheaders or tournaments. Lineup cards shared between coaches before games must list the pitchers who are ineligible to throw that day. After the games, both coaches also sign off on all players’ pitch counts for that day.

“There’s more paperwork,” Schwalbach said. ” And you have to remember who is off two days and what day it is. It will take a little adjusting for all of the coaches. When you get to the next level going from two days rest to three, you really have to make a decision if he’s really pitching well, but you want him to throw in two days against somebody else, you lose that opportunity, so you have to stay on top of the schedule relative to pitching.”

The new pitching rules may affect future schedules. Smaller schools may schedule less games to compensate for a lack of pitching depth.

The games also may run longer, with more pitching changes occurring because of the new rules.

And umpires may employ a more liberal strike zone, so pitchers aren’t burning up more pitches on border-line calls.

The new pitch-count rules are supported by the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association. After this season, the MHSAA will review the new rules.

Little League already has pitch-count rules for the youth, but Lauscher said summer travel teams create problems when kids pitch in both organizations.

“A lot of these kids who are in Little League and travel ball, there’s no restrictions between the two,” he said.

Overall, Lauscher and Schwalbach agree the new pitch-count rules are a positive change for high school baseball.

“Ultimitatley I think it will be a great thing,” Lauscher said. “I think it will help save kids’ arms. I think it will force coaches to groom a lot more pitchers.”