By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — North Olympic Peninsula baseball coaches have seen nothing but breaking balls in the start to the 2017 season.
Poor weather and subsequently soggy diamonds have caused numerous postponements and cancellations. Those weather-related issues might contribute later this season to the biggest curveball of them all, a recently adopted pitch-count limit for high school pitchers.
The new rule replaces a limit based on the number of innings pitched, not balls thrown.
A sliding scale is now in place as the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the governing body for high school sports in the state, conforms with a revised pitching policy brought forth last June by the National Federation of State High School Associations Baseball Rules Committee and later approved by the NFHS board.
Pitchers throwing one to 30 pitches in an outing do not require rest. A hurler tossing 31 to 50 pitches must sit out one day, and 51 to 75 pitches would trigger two days off.
Any pitcher who throws more than 75 pitches in a day will be required to rest for three days before their next appearance and no pitcher will be allowed to throw more than 105 pitches in any game.
The 105-pitch limit has no wiggle room, so if a pitcher hits that magic number in the middle of an inning or in the midst of an at-bat, a new pitcher must be inserted immediately (barring time for warmup tosses) or else risk forfeiting a game.
Umpires are not in charge of regulating pitch counts. Instead, the ultimate authority in tabulating throws lies with the home scorebook.
Any counting differences between teams will be left up to the home team scorebook or an official appeal process to the league, or leagues of the teams involved. That’s much the same way a dispute over any other play would be handled.
Port Angeles head coach Karl Myers, a former Gonzaga pitcher, blew out his elbow while playing fall ball at the start of his junior year of high school in 2007. He appreciates the rule and how the game of baseball has progressed in such a relatively short span of time.
“We care very much about the health and safety of our players,” Myers said.
“I am very cognizant of not having them overthrow and taking care to rest and recuperate. My [high school] coaches did a good job I think on the whole of monitoring how much I had thrown in a given day. But there was nothing back then about the importance of days off in the regulations and I ended up blowing out my elbow in fall ball and having to get Tommy John surgery.”
That surgery, common among baseball players, replaces the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body or from a cadaver donor.
“Keeping players healthy is much more important than trying to win games by overthrowing them,” Myers said.
“It’s good because somewhere in some school in Washington there’s a coach who might be tempted to overuse their star pitcher.
“I think its been a long time coming. The old rules really didn’t protect a pitcher because somebody who threw 20 pitches in three innings had the same amount of required time off as somebody who threw 120 pitches in three innings.”
Both Myers and Sequim head coach and athletic director Dave Ditlefsen have said there has been no issues with the pitch count rules in their contests.
Opposing coaches are keeping good counts and in the Olympic League, coaches have adopted a policy of transparency in pitching information.
“The Olympic League is using a shared Google Doc that after every game coaches go log their pitchers used and pitches thrown,” Ditlefsen said.
“The league is very transparent. We haven’t had any disagreements, usually every couple innings a coach will check and we are usually within one or two pitches of each other. And its all been very smooth and something the coaches are on board with.”
“I think transparency is the best policy,” he said. “It’s a good accountability piece for all of us. Coming from the college game, now there is a little bit of advance scouting, as you can check and see who is available [for the opposition] and what those certain guys can throw.
“More than anything, I hope it will be the model going forward across the state. I don’t see any guys protesting pitch counts because it’s all out there. So, hopefully, we wont have to see forfeits.
Myers said there has been an adjustment period to the new rule.
“It changes the way we approach everything,” he said. “Now we devote more time to having guys develop and work on their craft on the mound. And it creates more of a team atmosphere where we can develop an entire staff of maybe six to eight guys rather than two or three main guys.”
Ditlefsen also likes how the rule change is helping to develop pitching.
“That’s the thing you want to do anyway, you can never get enough pitching in high school baseball,” he said.
“We have had seven or eight pitchers throw already. That’s been good for them to get innings.”
Ditlefsen said pitchers should start to work deeper into games as the season progresses, and if a pitcher is on his game, the 105-pitch limit shouldn’t be a factor.
The Wolves have already had a pitcher throw the equivalent of a complete game when Justin Porter went seven innings in relief in a 10-inning contest with Kingston last week.
Porter’s pitch count reached 84, still well below the 105-pitch cap.
Speaking from experience, Myers got to the heart of what the new rule is intended to preserve.
“On the whole, it’s a big step forward for us in protecting kids’ arms.”