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New pitch counts implemented in high school baseball

If you see a high school pitcher cruise through six innings and not return for the seventh this spring, don't be too quick to jump on the coach. He might not have a choice. In a move that could drastically reduce the number of complete games thro...

If you see a high school pitcher cruise through six innings and not return for the seventh this spring, don't be too quick to jump on the coach.

He might not have a choice.

In a move that could drastically reduce the number of complete games thrown by high school pitchers, the South Dakota High School Baseball Association has replaced its old pitching regulation -- which dictated how many innings a pitcher could throw relative to his days of rest -- with a new policy based solely on pitches thrown, not innings.

Although there are numerous stipulations involved with the new pitch counts, the magic numbers are 89 and 106. A pitcher may throw no more than 106 pitches in any one day, except to finish the current hitter, and he may not return to the mound if he reached 89 pitches by the end of the previous inning.

"I like it a lot," said Stickney/Mount Vernon/Hanson/Ethan coach Derrion Hardie, who helped pass the rule in January as a newly-elected board member. "This was a long time in the making. It's not something they threw in at the last minute. We really took into consideration a lot of things, and thought it would be in the best interest of players and their health."

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The new rule will apply only to the high school spring season. American Legion baseball will continue to operate with its rule based on innings pitched.

In addition to the 106-pitch limit, pitchers may throw no more than 212 pitches in a seven-day period. The rule also states that one day of rest is required for an outing that includes between 27 and 44 pitches, two days of rest are required for outings between 45 and 61 pitches, three days of rest are required for outings between 62 and 88 pitches, and any pitcher that throws 89 or more pitches must get a full four days rest.

"I think if it's intended to protect kids' arms, it's a good thing, especially being this early in the season and with the cold temperatures we often play in," Chamberlain coach Brock Sundall said.

But it's the weather that could potentially cause numerous problems for coaches trying to work within the framework of the new rules. With postponements being a regularity in the uncertain spring weather, the potential for numerous games being rescheduled into a small time frame can be unavoidable. That could be especially problematic for smaller towns that aren't as deep in pitching.

"With the backup of games because of the weather, it will play a major part in pitching rotations and how many pitches a kid throws," Sundall said.

The biggest effect of the new rule could be a drastic reduction in complete games. Hardie said most of the pitch counts written into the rule -- especially the 89- and 106-pitch benchmarks -- are based on approximately 15 pitches per inning.

But Sundall said 15 pitches per inning seemed a bit optimistic at the high school level. He agreed that it was good to make coaches accountable for their pitchers' health, but added that it might be rare for a pitcher to make it into the seventh inning at fewer than 89 pitches.

"We have to start somewhere as an association," Sundall said. "Once we go through a season, we can potentially modify some of those numbers after we get an idea how it works."

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Complete games may be rare under the new rule, but Mitchell coach Luke Norden said that seven-inning pitching performances would be rare in spring baseball anyway. That idea was backed up by Brett Young's season-opening pitching performance for Mitchell on Monday. In an efficient outing, Young was removed after six innings despite being at only 74 pitches, well below the allowable maximum.

"The complete games don't happen at the beginning of the year as much, so the pitch count might not even come into effect that often," Norden said.

But Norden and several other coaches noted that the rule could play a bigger role in the postseason, once pitchers have spent the season building up their arm strength. A pitcher could be cruising through six innings and have his team on the verge of a state tournament win, but have to be removed late due to his pitch count.

"I wouldn't want to be in that situation," Sundall said. "I can see the rule as a benefit for the kids and the safety of their arms, but a disadvantage for allowing coaches to make potential coaching decisions."

That's a sentiment that Hardie understands all too well as a coach, but in a dual role as a board member, he said he needs to see it from multiple perspectives.

"As far as game management, as a coach, I may not like it," Hardie said. "If I was in the state championship and I had (SMVHE star) Tyson Gau on the mound, and he's cruising along in maybe a 1-1 game, and I have to take him out, that's a tough one.

"But when it really comes down to it, it's about doing what's right, and what's in the best interest of the player."

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