Senior staff writer
“You have to have depth.”
Veteran Perry Meridian baseball coach John Carpenter uttered those words about the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s pitch-count rules for the new season.
The IHSAA is following a National Federation of High School Association measure that pitch restriction be based upon pitches thrown and for rest between appearances. Previously, Indiana high school pitchers were limited to 10 innings during three days.
“I thought the old rule was a bit antiquated,” longtime Southport coach Scott Whitlock observed. “We have always used a pitch count to determine who throws and who comes in for relief.”
Whitlock and most Southside coaches used some sort of pitch count in past seasons, but perhaps not to the extent of the rule approved by the IHSAA board of directors: 101-120 pitches in a game followed by four days of rest; 81-100, three days; 61-80, two days; 36-60 pitches, one day. Warmup pitches do not count.
A pitcher who throws more than 60 pitches over two days must have one day of rest before taking the mound again. No pitcher may throw more than 120 pitches in any game. A hurler who reaches the mandatory pitch count would be allowed to finish pitching to that batter. A different pitch-count was adopted for sub-varsity teams.
Whitlock added, “The rule was needed; we have always been cautious and protective of arms, but I’ve seen other pitchers with Tommy John, rotator cuff and other injuries.”
At Greenwood Christian Academy, coach Doug Hagist works with players so they can pitch. Hagist used nine pitchers last season and rattled off the names of seven players who easily could pitch this season.
“I’ve always gone with number of pitches instead of number of innings,” Hagist said. “We have two pitchers who may go three or four innings, and we will develop at least two more pitchers to go with them. It will be interesting for a lot of coaches who weren’t used to tracking innings pitched.”
Rainouts, conference games, in-season tourneys and playoffs will place a premium on pitching depth. Most conference games are played back-to-back on successive days. And a tight sectional draw could be detrimental.
“They don’t trust us to manage pitchers,” said Carpenter of the new rule. “Now you have to have a deeper pitching staff than ever. It really comes into play if you win a sectional game on a Friday, you can’t come back with your No. 1 pitcher on a Saturday or Monday just for a few innings.”
Veteran Lutheran coach Dick Alter said he believes the new rule will harm the overall quality of the season. He also contends that the pitch-limit rule fits youth and travel ball, not necessarily high school baseball.
“I think there will be some really bad games played by teams that don’t have good pitchers,” Alter said. “You might have to bring in a kid from the bullpen for no reason just to save a day of rest. I realize there are coaches who have overextended pitchers. I don’t like the idea of shutting a pitcher down when you may need him just for seven or 10 pitches more.”
At Manual, coach Matthew Thompson has picked up a few athletes from other sports to add depth to the pitching corps. Franklin Central coach John Rockey has two front liners and six more players who can pitch.
State champion Roncalli and 4A state semifinalist Center Grove graduated the bulk of their pitching corps but are expected to come back with quality pitching as the season progresses.