By David Fong
COLUMBUS — High school baseball season may be two months away, but pitchers are on the clock.
Or, more accurately, on the count.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors recently approved pitch count restrictions for all Ohio high school baseball pitchers, which will go into effect this spring. Previously, Ohio pitchers could pitch up to 10 innings in a three-day span.
Moving forward, the new OHSAA pitch count regulation will be 125 pitches in a single day. It also includes several other provisions, including the number of days required between pitching appearances, based on the number of pitches thrown in a given day.
Troy coach Ty Welker — who has spent the last decade coaching the Trojans — said the new rule shouldn’t have much of an effect on his team.
“The reality is I think we already do a nice job taking care of our kids’ arms,” Welker said. “We’ve always made an effort to make the best decisions for our kids and their health. When we are making a decision about a kid, we always err on the side of his health. Honestly, having a pitch count shouldn’t impact us a whole lot.”
Welker said that while he agreed something needed to be done to protect pitchers’ arms, he said pitch count is just one thing he takes into consideration when deciding how long to leave a player on the mound.
“I think there are so many things you look at,” he said. “Is a kid throwing up in the zone? Does he appear to be fatigued? Also, I think a senior pitcher is a lot different than a freshman pitcher. There are a lot of things we look at when deciding how long to let a pitcher go.”
That being said, however, Welker said he doesn’t imagine many instances in which he’ll have a pitcher come close to the 125-pitch mark.
“In my career, I’d probably be pushing it to say we’ve had a kid throw 100 pitches once a year,” he said. “It’s really only happened a few times in my entire career. I definitely understand the mentality of the new rule. There’s always been a concern about kids’ arms. We’ve just been very fortunate that I can probably count on one hand the number of times in the last 11 years we’ve had a kid come close to that.”
The OHSAA also released the number of days needed between pitching appearances, based on the number of pitches in a day. A player that throws between 1-30 pitches will require zero days rest, 31-50 pitches will require one day off, 51-75 pitches will require two days rest and 75 or more pitches will require three days between appearances.
Tippecanoe baseball coach Bruce Cahill, who has been coaching the Red Devils for 34 years, said those guidelines could create some potentially interesting coaching decisions.
“What happens if you have a kid who is getting close to 75 pitches, do you take him out of the game so you can pitch him again two days later?” Cahill said. “Then what if you take him out and you end up losing the game because of it. That part of it could make things interesting, for sure. I also wonder if some teams will start taking more pitches and try to get a pitcher closer to the pitch county limit. That could change how some teams approach things from an offensive standpoint.”
Like Welker, Cahill said he doesn’t anticipate his program running into many instances in which it will come up against the 125 pitch count limit.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a kid throw that many pitches in a game,” he said. “If we have, it’s been not very many at all. In a seven-inning game, chances are if a kid is throwing 125 pitches, something has gone wrong and you probably aren’t going to want him in there anyway. We’ve always been pretty fortunate to have a lot of pitching depth — we’ve never really felt like we’ve had to have a kid throw that many pitches.”
While it likely won’t affect his team, Cahill said he agrees with the rule being put in place.
“I do think you needed something to protect kids from the coaches who are going to leave a kid out there too long,” he said. “I guess that’s the biggest reason I’m in favor of a pitch count. Every year you read about someone who leaves a kid out there for 160 pitches.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong