Coaches and managers at all levels of baseball — from Little League to the major leagues — have become concerned about the overuse of pitchers’ arms. The number of pitches thrown, or the pitch count, is monitored closely in the hope of preventing injuries.
The Colorado High School Activities Association put a pitch-count rule into effect this season that mandates periods of rest for a player depending on the number of pitches thrown in a game.
CHSAA abandoned its previous rule that limited pitchers to no more than 12 innings on three consecutive days but had no pitch maximum.
“The trainer I always go to keeps telling us we need to keep our arms healthy,” said Cherry Creek senior right-hander Carter Van Gytenbeek. “At the age we are at and how we are developing, and we’re still growing, I feel like the pitch limit is kind of acceptable to a point.”
CHSAA has set the limit at 110 pitches in varsity games and 85 for junior varsity play, and it requires three days of rest for pitchers who hit those thresholds.
Adhering to the pitch limit isn’t always easy.
In an early season game, Arapahoe senior right-hander Desmond Pineda allowed just one run and struck out eight batters, helping the Warriors to a 2-1 lead over Regis Jesuit.
He had thrown 100 pitches, close to the limit, and didn’t pitch in the seventh inning. Arapahoe lost 7-3.
“The pitch limit is something you have to get used to,” Pineda said. “It was hard for me to sit in the dugout when I knew I could have gone another inning or two. I could have went out there another inning and got the win.”
Van Gytenbeek understood Pineda’s frustration.
“That was a tough situation to be in, but it’s also smart because you don’t want to throw out a kid’s arm this early in the season,” he said.
Coaches weigh in
Many coaches agree with the intent of the new rule.
“Safety of the arms — that’s what it’s all about,” Mountain Vista coach Ron Quintana said.
“I’m fine with that pitch limitation,” Cherry Creek coach Marc Johnson said.
Littleton coach Bob Bote said there shouldn’t be a concern about overworked high school pitchers because coaches should already be monitoring the situation.
“I really baby my pitchers at this age when they are still growing and developing,” he said.
The count, however, remains an issue since many pitchers also play for club teams, increasing the workload on their arms.
“All of baseball is trying to figure out the solution and I don’t really know if anybody knows the answer,” said Jerry Scavarda, an area professional scout for the Miami Marlins. “With all the club teams, kids are playing year round now. They are definitely playing more games.”
There are limits to what a high school coach can do to prevent overextended pitchers, Horizon coach Ralph Garcia said.
“What happens now is kids switch from high school to clubs during the summer,” he said. “So many kids are going deeper into the year and maybe their arms are getting worn out.
“We don’t know how much a pitcher is throwing for club. Besides what they do at school, they go to these private instructors and we don’t know how many pitches they are throwing there. There are a lot of factors there, and more than the CHSAA put in place.”
Working arm in arm
The new pitch limits may push teams to develop more depth on the mound in case weather postponements force multiple games in a week. The state playoffs often have teams playing three games in two days.
“Guys that don’t develop depth in their pitching staff, it hurts them,” Johnson said. “So if they are relying on one or two guys — and a lot of high schools like to do that — it’s going to hurt them a little bit.”
Quintana said the rule will encourage teams to develop a third starter they can count on in the postseason.
“In the long run, what the pitch count does for us is gets guys playing experience and big-game experience,” he said, “so if you make the playoffs, you know you have some guys to pitch.”
Run totals will rise as teams struggle to develop that depth, Garcia predicts.
“You are going to see scores go in the (teens) and 20s because you are going to have JV pitchers pitching varsity games.”