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BASEBALL: Pitchers, coaches wary of the full count

BNL pitcher Austin Long fires a pitch toward his target. Long fanned 6 in 5 2/3 innings as the Stars stopped Pike 3-2 on Saturday afternoon.

BNL pitcher Austin Long fires a pitch toward his target. Long, and all high school pitchers, will be placed on a pitch count to determine rest between appearances.

New NFHS rule will dictate

IHSAA mandate required

rest based on pitch counts

By Justin Sokeland

The count is full. The pitch of decision is coming.

On the diamond, this scenario happens constantly, more than it should when pitchers struggle with command, control and the courage to challenge the strike zone. Now, following a revision of pitching policy in Rule 6-2-6 by the Baseball Rules Committee of the National Federation of State High School Associations, a full count will have a second meaning.

High school hurlers, starting in 2017, will be on a mandatory pitch count.

The NFHS ruling, aimed at limiting arm injuries from overuse, will require each member state association to develop a pitching policy, based on the number of pitches thrown rather than innings worked, that mandates a rest period between pitching appearances.

For example: throw 50 pitches, rest three days. Fire 100 pitches, rest five days. The actual guidelines have yet to be finalized by the IHSAA and the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.

Other questions of implementation arise. How will the rule be policed? What will be the penalties for breaking it?

Cole Mathews eyes his target. Mathews went 6 innings and allowed only three hits against North Daviess.

Cole Mathews threw 99 pitches during a 6-inning performance against Princeton last season.

“It will be very interesting,” said BNL baseball coach (and athletic director) Jeff Callahan, who expects some type of ‘honor system’ to be introduced. “That’s what it will come down to. The coaches association, and the IHSAA, will establish the guidelines, and we will have to follow them.”

Pitch counts came into focus during the last two decades in Major League Baseball. Managers (and now viewers at home with the television statistics on the screen) chart pitches and pay close attention once the number for a starter nears triple digits. It has become the accepted practice in order to cut down on shoulder, elbow and arm injuries.

High school coaches have followed that example.

“We’ve always been very cautious, especially early in the season, with pitch counts,” Callahan said. “We’ve tried to take the best care of our pitchers as possible.

“It depends on the kid. There are a lot of things that go into it. The 100 pitch mark is kind of the thing we’ve set in the past. That’s not to say we haven’t gone over that, but we’ve tried to keep it at that over the last three years.”

Last season, two BNL pitchers went over 100 during starts. Austin Long, who is verbally committed to Indiana University, threw 106 in 5 1/3 innings against Indianapolis Pike, and Mason Mack authored 102 in 7 innings against Martinsville. Cole Mathews unleashed 99 in 6 innings against Princeton, and Drew Hensley had 94 in 7 innings against Vincennes Rivet.

BNL coach Jeff Callahan directs traffic. The Stars stranded 7 baserunners.

BNL coach Jeff Callahan has charted pitch counts during his tenure with the Stars.

By comparison, New Albany ace Austin Dickey, headed for the University of Louisville, had 119 during his complete-game victory over BNL in the Class 4-A sectional.

New Albany coach Chris McIntyre, who is not enamored with the rule shift, believes arm injuries are more prevalent during the summer travel-ball season. No pitch-count rules govern that circuit. Taking extra care to protect a player from February-June (from the start of practice to the state tournament) will be wasted if the oversight is lacking from June-August.

McIntyre wondered – out loud – about the integrity of coaches who would circumvent the rule. Every profession has those who would cheat the system. He also could foresee issues in the sectional that would force a team to go deep into its staff if three games were required to claim the championship.

justin ad copy“There are a lot of questions,” McIntyre said. “We knew this was coming, and it’s going to change things.”

Baseball practice will begin on Mar. 13. McIntyre, and likely every other coach in the state, hopes the IHSAA will release its guidelines long before that date approaches.