SWFL coaches split on impending pitch count limits

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Pitch counts will mean a lot more in high school baseball starting this spring.

New rules will limit the number of pitches a player can deliver in a single game and, perhaps most importantly, regulate the amount of rest required in between appearances. The Florida High School Athletic Association announced a policy this week that will go before the organization’s board of directors next month with a strong chance of passing.

It’s the latest step in a trend toward regulating the use of pitchers that’s present at virtually all levels of baseball. Major league organizations have become increasingly more vigilant of the workload their pitchers endure, and Little League instituted pitch count limits in 2007.

“It’s pretty much going to force the coaches to do right by the kids,” Cape Coral coach Mike Gorton said.

Not everyone sees it as a measure that’s in the best interest of high school players. Fort Myers coach Brooks Beisner said he has mixed feelings.

“Some of these guys, they know that they’re not going to play college baseball or professionally,” Beisner said. “They know that this is their senior year. If they can throw a whole game for a team to win it, and they have nothing left to prove and nothing left to throw, what’s saying that they can’t do that?”

The absolute limit for any high school pitcher in a single game would be 120 pitches under the FHSAA proposal, but few would be allowed to throw that many — it’s only for those 19 and older, as shown on the chart the FHSAA linked to in its announcement. For 17- and 18-year-olds, the limit would be 105, and for 15- and 16-year-olds, it would be 95.

FHSAA pitch count proposal
FHSAA pitch count proposal

“When I have a senior, possibly a really strong junior, my max has always been 105. We’ve never gone above that,” said Mark Marsala, a longtime Southwest Florida high school head coach. “We try to keep underclassmen at 85 or less. Sometimes we’ll get up to 90. Juniors are OK if they get up to 90.”

Marsala stepped away from the head coaching job at Seacrest Country Day this summer to focus on his duties as the school’s athletics director and as the president of the FHSAA Board of Directors. He cautioned that the pitch count limits haven’t received final approval yet but said that it’s likely he and the rest of the board will give them the thumbs-up at their next meeting Nov. 6-7.

The FHSAA has to institute some sort of pitch-count limit plan before next season the wake of a mandate from the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations.

“If the NFHS is mandating it, I’d be shocked if we didn’t approve it,” Marsala said.

Still, Marsala concedes that whatever limits the FHSAA puts in place for young arms can be essentially undone by travel ball and outside practice obligations.

“[A pitcher] could be taking lessons somewhere else. He could be doing bullpen work somewhere else. He could be training for a travel team, pitching in a tournament over a weekend,” Marsala said. “… That’s where your extra wear and tear comes in.”

Gorton said his initial reaction to the limits the FHSAA is proposing is that they’re not restrictive enough. He won’t let anyone on the Seahawks throw more than 80 or 90 pitches at any point, and he said his pitchers have to work up to those numbers. For a Cape Coral pitcher’s first outing, the cap is 40, Gorton said.

“There’s only so many bullets in someone’s arm,” he said.

A 40-pitch outing would allow a pitcher age 15 or older who threw on a Tuesday to return to the mound as soon as Thursday under the FHSAA proposal. Any more than 45 and the pitcher would be waiting until Friday. Go above 60, and the wait lasts until Saturday. And above 75, the pitcher is done for the week, since teams don’t schedule games on Sundays.

Beisner thinks pitchers are being micromanaged and coached to go against their instincts in ways that lead to injury — the very outcome pitch count limits are designed to prevent. Young athletes benefit from playing a multitude of sports instead of focusing on just one year-round as many do nowaways, said Beisner, who points to the workload that major league pitchers used to absorb.

“You go back to the 1960s, 1970s, I mean you had hurlers like [Bob] Gibson and all those guys, [Don] Drysdale, those guys threw nine innings every night for 35 starts every year for 20 years, and they never had an arm problem whatsoever,” Beisner said.

That’s not entirely true. A shoulder injury forced Drysdale, who twice led the big leagues in innings pitched, out of the majors just weeks after his 33rd birthday in 1969. That same season, Gibson topped all big league pitchers with 28 complete games, but he was still in the majors at age 39.

So, not all arms are created equal. But starting this spring, all pitchers will be held to the same set of standards, at least for high school games.


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