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Pitch count aware: Coaches gear up for new MSHSL pitch count rules

Woodbury's Max Meyer delivers a pitch during the Class 4A state tournament last June. (Photo by John Molene)1 / 3
Park's Brandon Alt winds up during a game last spring. (Bulletin file photo)2 / 3
Henry George hurls a strike during a section game against Concordia Academy last spring. (Bulletin file photo)3 / 3

Baseball coaches across the state of Minnesota are preparing to watch pitch counts carefully this spring.

The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) passed a regulation for pitch counts in baseball during a board meeting last December that takes effect starting this spring.

The regular-season single-game maximum pitch count for high school pitchers at the varsity level is set at 105. The policy also establishes a required amount of rest for players based on the number of pitches thrown in a game.

At schools in South Washington County, the new rule has been met with mixed reviews. Woodbury head coach Kevin McDermott said the Royals in the past were already following a similar approach to giving pitchers rest. Now coaches are required to pay even more attention.

"I don't see many people abusing kids' arms, I haven't," McDermott said about area coaches. "So I'm not a huge fan of the rule. But I guess it is what it is."

A varsity pitcher who throws 76 to 105 pitches in a game will be required to rest for three days. Two days of rest are required for 51 to 75 pitches, and one day of rest is needed for a count of 31 to 50 pitches. One day off is also required if a pitcher throws two straight days.

When the section playoffs begin, the maximum amount of pitches extends to 115.

The recommendations on the MSHSL website clarify that a pitcher may play other positions on rest days, but "care should be taken where they play and how much they throw."

Before this season, baseball teams like Woodbury often entered games with a plan for starters to throw a certain number of pitches. But the new guidelines do not offer much wiggle room when a pitcher is approaching a count that would result in another required day of rest.

"We'll have to manage it, and we'll have a plan going into every game with what we're looking at," McDermott said. "It's just another piece that you have to really focus in on."

East Ridge head coach Brian Sprout said the Raptors were already keeping a close eye on pitch counts before the adoption of the new rule. He does not expect much to change for the program starting this spring.

"We kind of always have monitored things, and I really make a point not to overthrow kids," Sprout said. "As far as our pitching program goes, we've got a lot of guys. We would love to keep as many arms as we can at all the different levels."

With the new rule in place, teams need to designate a student or adult who is responsible for tracking pitches for their team. In the postseason, the guidelines call for an adult to keep track of pitches.

According to the rule, teams will track pitches for both their team and their opponent. After each half-inning, those responsible for tracking pitches will meet to confirm their counts. If a dispute occurs, the home team's number will stand as the official mark.

With the season starting soon, Minnesota coaches have yet to see what these half-inning interactions will bring.

"What happens if I have 18 pitches and they said my guy threw 21, or 20?" McDermott said. "Something like that. Obviously, the home team is official, but you are going to get into some of those discrepancies."

A violation of the pitch count rule comes with some hefty penalties for teams and head coaches. The first offense means the "game is forfeited and the head coach is censored." The second offense will result in a forfeit and the head coach being suspended for one game, and the third offense results in a forfeit and suspension of the head coach for four games.

While the largest schools often have enough pitching depth to get by, smaller schools with fewer players will need to tackle the challenge of giving pitchers their mandatory rest. New Life Academy, a school with an enrollment of 241, has been fortunate to have enough varsity-level pitchers in recent history. But head coach Dave Darr said numbers are down this year, so monitoring the pitch count rule will be necessary for players who compete on the varsity and JV teams.

"We have less bodies, so I think it's going to come into play more because we're going to have to have guys who are going to play both varsity and JV and pitch," Darr said. "So we're going to have to keep our eyes on that a lot more."

Like many other coaches, Darr acknowledges that monitoring the workload of high school pitchers is important. But he also looks at the policy as another layer for coaches to track during and in between games.

"If coaches were doing their jobs and protecting kids' arms, I don't think we would be in this situation," Darr said. "But guys that get good pitching and run them into the ground, and then they get arm injuries. It happens, and I understand why it's there."

Baseball practices in Minnesota were permitted to start on March 20. MSHSL games are authorized to begin starting Thursday.