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The VHSL has limited the number of innings a player can throw in a week.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Cave Spring's Clayton Benton, along with the rest of the pitchers in Timesland, will be competing under new inning counts for the 2013 high school system.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
With the coming of the new baseball season, there are some new regulations — and some will likely have an impact on most teams at some point this spring.
Pitching arms, always highly valued and occasionally endangered in high school baseball, will be safer as a result of a recently announced Virginia High School League rules change.
Regulations to limit the number of deliveries one pitcher may make in competition during a given amount of time were announced recently. The hope is the new statute will eliminate the possibility of a player being overpitched to the point of injury to his arm.
Rule 56-1-1 states in part: “A pitcher may pitch in a maximum of nine innings in one day but not more than fourteen innings in any seven day consecutive period.”
The new rule will be included in the baseball regulation section of the next VHSL Handbook, which publishes in August. Because the rule was passed as emergency legislation, it is installed in time for the 2013 season. The rule replaces that of the same number in the current handbook: “A pitcher shall not pitch in more than ten (10) innings in any two consecutive calendar days.”
A rule based on the best interests of the athlete was applauded by a sampling of Timesland coaches.
“Good,” said Jefferson Forest’s Jim Thacker, summing up the sentiments voiced by his colleagues.
All of those coaches said their pitchers had been limited in the amount of pitches they were allowed to throw in a given period.
“It’s not really going to affect us a whole lot,” Auburn coach Skip Thompson said. “We don’t use any of our starters more than once a week anyway. Even if we have three games, we try to use three different guys.”
A pitcher being limited to 14 innings in seven days is nothing new for Glenvar coach Billy Wells.
“I don’t ever use a kid that much anyway,” he said.
Questions arose when it came to the execution of the new rule.
“Biggest question I have is how it’s going to be monitored,” Thacker wrote in an email.
It will be a self-policing system as with other VHSL rules, such as a game suspension followed by an ejection, said Tom Dolan, VHSL athletics director and the ramrod of the new legislation.
“It’s just like eligibility and anything else,” he said. “If you feel like you have violated, it is incumbent upon you to let us know.”
It’s a proven enforcement method with built-in checks and balances, in Dolan’s view.
“You’re going to get cooperation from the schools. Our schools are good about that.”
Furthermore, opposing teams will be part of the monitoring. They’ll know how many innings the opposing pitcher works in a game, Dolan said.
Accurate record keeping will be crucial but simple.
“All you’ll need is your scorebook,” Dolan said.
The previous rule was based on the assumption that most teams play two games a week during the regular season.
“Our current rule that is on the books allows pitchers to pitch five innings a day every day and unless you got into a rain situation and you’re only averaging two games a week,” he said. “But there were times when, because of weather, you got into three or four games a week.”
Although most veteran coaches use sound practices in limiting innings worked by a pitcher, there are inevitable exceptions, Dolan said.
“Our concern was to develop a rule that dealt with the lowest common denominator. Five innings a day every day just wasn’t an appropriate rule,” Dolan said.
Sports medicine authorities were consulted during the process of putting together the new rule.
“They determined that there was just too much allowance,” Dolan said.
The new regulation has been in the works about a year and a half starting with discussions with sports medicine specialists. One prompt was a parent’s suggestion to introduce new pitch count rules to address the problem of overpitching, Dolan said.
With regulations already on the books in Pennsylvania as one model, legislation was worked up that first didn’t get past the executive committee. Another committee was impaneled that included baseball coaches and athletic directors who had baseball experience, a principal, and a member of the sports medicine committee. That group met last summer and came up with new legislation.
Given status as emergency legislation, it was approved by the executive committee and announced Dec. 12.
One of the questions about the new legislation that arose with coaches was the use of innings as a measurement. The argument against was that not all innings are created equal from a pitching standpoint. For example, an inning can constitute just three pitches and three groundball or flyball outs or it can be 30 pitches.
Hidden Valley coach Jason Taylor had a suggestion to address that point.
“I really wish … instead of innings pitched, they would look at … pitch count,” he said. “We have a pitch count on all our pitchers. I’ve done pitch counts the whole time I’ve been up here. We’re watching out for the kids.”
Thacker of Jefferson Forest said he watches pitch count particularly closely early in the year when pitchers are not yet in top shape.
“The first time out in March, our pitchers are going no more than 40 pitches then they’re out of there,” he said. “We’ll boost them up as we go on in the year.”
The rule does not change for the postseason. Hidden Valley’s Taylor’s thinks it should, especially for the state tournament.
“Because you play on a Tuesday, Friday, Saturday,” he said.
Instead, a better system would be to follow the Tuesday quarterfinals with a Saturday semifinal then the final a week later instead of going on back-to-back days.
“If you make the state championship, you ought to be able to pitch your best player,” he said.
Short of changing the existing schedule, Dolan was unmoved by the logic there should be different postseason rules.
“We talked about doing this just during the regular season but we didn’t feel like the safety element changed one iota from regular season to postseason.”
Dolan added that a potential residual benefit of the new rules will be that coaches will be motivated to develop more pitchers for their teams.
In any event, Dolan predicted there would be changes and tweaks to the new rule as time went on and unforeseen situations developed.
Dolan put together an educational package about the new rules and best coaching practice for preseason rules clinics.
“If there are things that need to be done to make this better or easier, we’ll look at it, propose it, and take it through the process.”
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