Fewer injuries, adequate rest and deeper pitching staffs have been prioritized in the 2017 baseball season.
Prior to the start of the spring season, the Indiana High School Athletic Association implemented new pitch-count rules.
The rules state that if players throw between 101 and 120 pitches during a varsity game, they must rest for a minimum of four days.
It’s three days of rest for 81 to 100 pitches. Two days rest are required for 61 to 80 pitches and it’s one day off the mound for 36 to 60 pitches.
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Also, if a player throws 60 pitches in a two-day period, one day of rest is required.
Additionally, the sub-varsity teams — like freshman and junior varsity — have new rules.
It’s four days of rest for 81 to 90 pitches, three days for 61 to 80 pitches, two for 36 to 60 pitches and one for 26 to 35 pitches.
These new guidelines replace the former rules which allowed pitchers 10 innings in a three-day span.
Seymour, Brownstown Central, Crothersville and Trinity Lutheran have all adapted to the changes.
Small and big schools alike, the changes are altering the way coaches approach games.
During games, a manager/coach keeps track of pitch counts and fills out a grid created by the IHSAA. The forms are turned into school administration and to the IHSAA as needed.
Owls staying the course
The new rules haven’t altered Seymour’s approach to pitcher’s safety.
“I don’t think it has changed anything for us,” Owls coach Jeremy Richey said. “It’s a good rule, and I hope that coaches were keeping track of this before so it wasn’t too big an issue. We have been very cautious with it.
“Most of our pitchers throw around 80 pitches anyways. In some situations we will throw more, like if a player has had eight days rest leading up to the game. We have extended Tyler Bloom and Sam Hirose.”
The Owls’ program has developed multiple pitchers from the lower levels for years to prepare them for high school ball.
“Being on the youth board, I pushed to set rules closer to having more pitchers have to throw,” Richey said. “At our level, we know we need a lot of pitchers. We’ve seen that coming, so we’ve played that game anyways.”
While the varsity is in good shape, Richey said that he could see some issues for the sub-varsity teams.
“I think it’s a bigger issue for the sub-varsity,” Richey said. “There’s a different amount of pitches for sub-varsity than varsity since they’re younger players. Our max is 120 and theirs is 90. You get a kid in a JV game throwing really well, and still competing and getting people out in the sixth inning, he’s out after 90 pitches.
“I’m not complaining about that at all, we want them ready when they get to varsity. For us, the sub-varsity is what I think it’s like for smaller schools. They can’t throw kids as much because the numbers are smaller.”
Richey said they have five solid pitchers, but plan to extend that number to six or seven come tournament time.
“In the sectional, I think it could become a bigger issue,” Richey said. “The Wednesday, Saturday, Monday format we have, you can throw 120 Wednesday and then have four days of rest before Monday.
“The issue is that if you have to throw someone on Saturday and he throws from 61 to 80 pitches he has to sit out two days which makes him out for Monday. If you get a kid who throws 62 or 63 on Saturday, you don’t have him at all for the championship game. I think that will create more of an issue for teams.”
Seymour High School certified athletic trainer Kyle Coates, of Schneck Medical center, said the medical field has been pleased with the changes.
“The response from the athletic training community has been positive,” Coates said. “It is something we have been preaching for a long time. We have seen pitch count recommendations at the little league and youth levels but it was also necessary at the high school level as well. Many of these athletes still are not fully matured yet and it is in the best interest of the players and their long term health to have pitch counts as well as rest in between starts.”
Braves adapting to changes
For a Class 3A school like Brownstown Central, the rule changes are more apparent in games.
“If you have a smaller school that doesn’t have a deep pitching staff, that really pressures them,” Braves coach John Lawson said after an 11-0 victory over Orleans on Tuesday.
He used Orleans as an example saying the school did not have pitching depth, but played games two nights in a row, making it difficult to make decisions during games.
Playing games back-to-back and with doubleheaders affects teams like the Braves, too.
“When you’ve got back-to-back games and double headers on Saturday and have a game on Monday, that’s when you really feel it,” Lawson said. “We’ve been fortunate so far.”
Lawson, like Richey, said he thinks the rule may also make post-season play a little more challenging and require his club to put a lot of thought in between games.
“It’s going to create some serious planning depending on who you draw and how confident you are in game one and how deep you want a guy go and if you want him to come back,” he said.
Lawson said there are also factors out of everyone’s control that could make the decisions even more difficult.
“If you get rain and get everything squeezed in a couple days instead of spread out, that’s really going to create some coaching decisions for sure,” he said.
This season, the Braves have only had two pitchers go over 100 pitches that needed the maximum amount of rest.
Brownstown has thrown six pitchers thus far this season, and Lawson said he has always kept track of pitch counts.
Trinity, Crothersville battle numbers
Of all the schools affected by the pitch-count in Jackson County, Crothersville and Trinity Lutheran are in the tightest spots.
Trinity has 11 players on their roster and Crothersville has 12.
Neither teams have junior varsity squads.
At Trinity Lutheran, coach Matt VonDielingen has always kept track of pitches and knows the ramifications of not resting properly.
VonDielingen said he has always watched pitching, and has seen the effects of overuse.
“I believe that these boys’ futures should be first and foremost,” VonDielingen said. “They should not be a situation where we are worried about winning and not developing other arms.
Ten years ago, when I was coaching youth, I saw a pitcher throw 150 pitches in the championship game: We’re talking 10-years-old. I know a boy whose dad had him throwing curve balls at 12 and he couldn’t’ pitch in high school. Coaches don’t’ educate themselves enough, which is why they put these rules in place. Many just want to ride their best guy. I think the pitch count is a great way to counter that.”
Monitoring the types of pitches is also a focus for VonDielingen.
“Until you’re into high school you shouldn’t be throwing a curve ball,” VonDielingen said. “I feel this is critical. Maybe just a knuckle-curve or change-up. You learn to throw your fastball well and you will succeed at the youth level. Yes, in high school, you need a slider or curve ball — but your arm can handle that.”
Of their 11 players, six have pitched for the Cougars.
At Crothersville, coach Jared Richey now has more arms throwing.
“I’ve always had a good rotation of pitchers throughout the season, but this new rule just has me planning a little further in advance,” Richey said. “I have all my pitchers planned out for the rest of the season, plus how many pitches I want to keep them under during that game.
No new strategy during games, just more planning in advance of the game. I’ll tend to save my ace for conference games and make sure he has plenty of rest beforehand, but then I just follow my rotation for non-conference games.”
At first, Richey didn’t like the changes — even though he already kept track of pitches.
“Originally, I wasn’t happy with the new rule due to the fact we had limited numbers,” Richey said. “We have always struggled for pitchers. But, this actually turned into a positive for us.
I’m getting people on the mound that I originally wouldn’t have considered and it ends up helping them with their throwing accuracy, strength, and focus even off of the mound. Plus, I now have multiple pitchers I can throw at the competition, preventing them from getting too comfortable with one guy.”
Last year the Tigers started with five, but lost one pitcher and ended with four. This season the Tigers have seven guys on the mound.
“Overall, yes, I’m in favor of the pitch count rule,” Richey said. “Every coach should of had some sort of pitch count rule already implemented for their pitchers, but this just standardizes it. It keeps the players healthy and that is always a big concern for everyone.”