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Area coaches react to new VHSL rule limiting innings pitched

Last December, the Virginia High School League enacted new innings regulations designed to protect the commonwealth's prep baseball pitchers.

Effective for the 2013 season, the rules cap the innings pitched in a day to nine and in a seven-day span to 14.

Tossing eight innings requires three days rest, four or more innings means two days and two or three innings necessitates a day of rest – each scenario with mandated maximums for the pitcher's return from rest.

Crucially, an inning is considered pitched if the pitcher delivers just one pitch in that inning.

The measure passed the VHSL's executive committee 19-6, seven months after a similar restriction failed.

The head coaches interviewed for this story were candid in their responses. They raised points concerning the need to find more capable pitchers for a staff and get relievers into games quickly.

They also seemed to cast a consensus opinion that pitches thrown is a more exact measure of an arm's taxation than innings worked.

"I feel if they're doing it to protect young arms, they would have done it through pitch counts," said Heritage's eight-year coach Ryan Price, who noted that virtually every program tracks total pitches, sometimes including those hurled in bullpen sessions.

"How many high school baseball coaches were consulted before enacting these rules?" asked Potomac Falls coach Joe Terango rhetorically. "We have our own standards, and they involve pitches thrown."

Briar Woods coach Jason Miller also employs pitch limitations, saying his coaches carefully monitor their pitchers' health by counting pitches, not innings.

Miller said the rules are "positive steps" but broached the aspect of enforcement.

"The biggest change will be [the] eye that will have to be kept on coaches," he said. "It's not clear how the rule is going to be enforced."

A memorandum from the VHSL stipulates forfeiture of a game in which a violation occurs, plus a $100 fine against the violating school.

Loudoun County's newly installed coach Nick Price, Terango's former assistant, said that whether limits are innings-based or pitches-based, there would be pros and cons.

"I believe these regulations are a step in the right direction," he said. "I feel the rule should look to integrate both pitches and innings in a way that makes it fair to teams with deep staffs and teams who are thin on pitching."

In at least some cases, a given team's own rules are more stringent than those mandated by the state's athletic governing body.

Terango cited the 2009 Virginia AA tournament, which pitted Potomac Falls in a semifinal against a tough Poquoson team in a quest of the Panthers' first state title. Rain postponed the game for 24 hours.

"We didn't move our ace Jake Kline up a day in the rotation [because] he would have had to pitch on three days rest instead of the team rule of four days," Terango recalled.

Terango noted that Poquoson gave the nod to its ace starter on short rest. The Panthers ultimately came up short in their championship bid.

"That decision haunts me to this day," Terango said. "But I believe we made the correct choice."

The VHSL has no jurisdiction over summer travel squads in which many upper-caliber players participate.

"We understand some of our kids play in tournaments all summer and sometimes those can get backed up," Ryan Price said. "Those teams have to get through their games and sometimes that means bringing guys back on short rest."

Price went on.

"I think at the high school level we do a pretty good job of monitoring our guys and I'm not sure if in the summer leagues they do it as much," he said.


The recently passed VHSL pitching policy is seriously flawed. 
  - It uses innings pitched when pitch count is far more valid and accurate.
  - It penalizes an efficient pitcher and fails to protect the average pitcher.
  - It allows too many pitches per day – far in excess of what the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) research indicates as reasonable.
  - It does not differentiate between the 14 year old JV pitcher and the 18 year old varsity pitcher as any responsible policy would.
  - It is NOT based on science or medical research, but instead is based on convenience.  VHSL felt that pitch count was too hard to manage. Yet, amatures like Little League manages it just fine.

Should we feel comfortable allowing a 14, or even 18 year old to pitch 9 innings in a single day, an average of 135 pitches.  Research indicates that regularly throwing over 80 pitches per game makes high school pitchers 4 times more likely to require surgery?  Dr. Andrews (ASMI and RG3’s surgeon) recommends no more than 90 at the High School Level.  “High school pitchers should not throw more than 90 pitches in a game and they should have to take at least five days rest before they pitch again anywhere,” he said. “No way should they throw more than 100. The elbow isn’t ready for that workload.  I understand coaches are under a lot of pressure to win. But coaches need to know your No. 1 priority is the health and safety of your young pitchers and baseball players. Your job is to deliver them to the next level without injury.” 

Where is the medical basis for what was just passed by the VHSL?  VHSL and the VHSL Executive Ctte should be held accountable.  Challenge the SMAC or VHSL Staff to produce one medical journal article that supports an innings pitched proposal like this.  There isn’t one.

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