Baseball: Pitch counts aren’t as simple as 1, 2, 3

The counting has begun.

As in counting pitches.

The number of pitches thrown by high school baseball pitchers is now official business, as per new regulations issued by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. Under the new requirements, which took effect with the start of this season, various rest periods are mandated for pitchers, depending on the number of pitches they have thrown in a game.

The consensus among local coaches surveyed by The Suffolk Times and The Riverhead News-Review is that the NYSPHSAA’s intention of protecting young arms is a step in the right direction, but may not go far enough.

“There’s already coaches who have studied this thing and figured out ways to get around it,” Riverhead coach Rob Maccone said. “It’s a good start, but it’s a work in progress and needs to be adjusted.”

For varsity pitchers, the NYSPHSAA now requires that they be given one night’s rest after throwing one to 30 pitches, two night’s rest after 31 to 65 pitches, three night’s rest after 66 to 95 pitches and four night’s rest after 96-105 pitches, which is the maximum allowed. (A pitcher who throws his 105th pitch in the middle of an at-bat is permitted to finish working against that batter).

For the playoffs, the pitch-count numbers are raised slightly, with a maximum of 125.

Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro believes the number of night’s rest isn’t enough. “It’s nice to see that they’re thinking about this, but I just don’t think that it’s enough,” he said. “It needs to be a little stricter.”

Southold coach Mike Carver, a former catcher, underwent Tommy John surgery two years ago and is sensitive to the concern over preventing injury. “It’s a good move whenever you’re trying to protect kids, protecting kids’ arms over wins,” he said.

At the same time, Carver said he isn’t sure if the rules will protect pitchers as much as they should. “Most kids aren’t built or designed to throw 80 pitches and then come back later in the week and do it again,” he said.

A sticking point to some is the bookkeeping process, just how the pitch counts will be recorded. Schools are now required to maintain all pitching charts and make those charts available to any school prior to any game to show the availability of pitchers for that given day. Each team tracks pitch counts. After each half-inning the pitch counts are compared by both teams. Any discrepancy is to be resolved based on the home team’s records.

Any violation of the rules could result in a forfeit.

In part, it’s based on an honor system. “I think right now that’s the biggest concern,” DeCaro said. “Can we trust each other?”

The regulations could have the biggest impact on small school teams like the one Ed Meier coaches at Bishop McGann-Mercy. The Monarchs have only four pitchers.

“When you run out, then what happens?” he asked.

Like Meier, Greenport coach Mike Sage agrees with the spirit of the rules, but acknowledges it could make for some tough decisions. He has five pitchers on his team.

“Obviously, the safety and the health of the kids is what’s in question and I appreciate that and totally respect that,” Sage said. “Do I think 17- and 18-year-old kids should be throwing 120 pitches? No I do not. It makes it more strategic for the coach. You got to be careful with how you use guys. … Every player is important but our pitchers are very precious to us.”

The pitch-count rules will surely impact games, making it tougher for strikeout pitchers, who tend to run higher counts. Errors and walks could also be more costly.

Some teams say not much will change in how they go about business, though.

Mattituck senior pitcher Brendan Kent said he cannot ever recall throwing over 100 pitches in a game. “Coach is really good with us, though, trying to not overwork us and really not ever going over 105 pitches, only throw once a week, so it really shouldn’t be too much of a problem for us,” he said. “Plus, we have 10 pitchers, which is like awesome for any team. Thirteen guys on the team, 10 guys who can pitch, so I don’t see it really being a problem for me or anyone else on the team.”

Shoreham-Wading River coach Kevin Willi said: “I think it’s very good that we have a pitch limit. Does it affect our program very much? Not really. … We don’t really throw our guys over those limits anyway ever.”

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Photo caption: Matt Gambino is one of only four pitchers on a Bishop McGann-Mercy team that, like every other team in the state, must abide by new pitch-count regulations. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)