Area Little League coaches examine pitch count
July 6, 2012 at 2:06 a.m.
A heavyset boy ambled to the plate looking for his chance to hit. His team had scored nearly 10 runs on the night and he wanted his chance to join in the fun at the District 27 Little League baseball tournament earlier this week.
Just as he stepped into the batter's box time was called.
His mother quipped "why do you always have to change pitchers when my son is hitting?"
The answer: the pitch counts.
In 2007 Little League Baseball Inc. established guidelines, dependent upon age, for the number of pitches a baseball player can deliver in a day in an attempt to protect the arms of boys and girls who took the mound.
For the 9-10 year-old All-Stars that number is 75. The limit is 85 for 12 year-olds and increases up to 105 pitches for 18 year-olds. Though it has made managing games a tad more difficult for coaches, few have complaints about its effectiveness.
"If you have good pitchers you don't want to burn them for the next day," said Holly Long, head coach of the Southwest Victoria 11-12 year-old All-Stars. "If they pitch over 21 pitches that's one day of rest they have to have, so you want to try to limit that. The key is to not only have a lot of pitchers, but to have pitchers that throw strikes."
Of the 12 boys on Long's team, he said eight can pitch. Not coincidentally, this is the first time in five years Southwest has won its first three games in the District 27 tournament.
The four Little Leagues in Victoria have more teams and more players, and thus a larger selection of pitchers. The rural communities in the District 27 tournament didn't have as many pitchers, or the depth of pitching.
"It depends on the team," said Goliad 11-12 All-Stars head coach Raymond Edison. "Sometimes you have to figure out which pitchers you want to use according to the team you are playing. .It's never easy."
Indeed. No Crossroads Little League outside Victoria has advanced to the sectional tournament in 15 years.
"Being from a small town you don't have a bunch to pick from like Victoria does," Edison said. "We have to take what we have and a lot of work."
Whether it's work or dugout psychology, the coaches encourage their pitchers to throw strikes and pitch to contact. Edison and Long said doing so not only gets the defense involved, but limits the number pitches burned.
Prior to the 2007 rule change Little League had limits on the number of innings a pitcher could throw in a week, but no limit on the number of pitches. Long has been a youth baseball coach for nearly a decade and the switch was quite an adjustment.
Eddie Serenil, head coach of the Victoria Southeast 11-12 year-old All-Stars, took it a step further when he compared the strategizing to chess.
"When you pick the All-Star kids you look at whether they can pitch," Serenil said, adding he likes the newer system because, in his opinion, it protects the players' arms more. "If you want to compete at this level you need at least six. If you have more than that it's a bonus."
If there is one positive to the new rules, it's the fact that more boys get to feel like a king and take the mound. Serenil, like most coaches at the District 27 tournament, didn't let his pitchers throw more than 35 pitches in a game, so they could come back later in the tournament.
Anyone who delivers fewer than 20 pitches can pitch in their team's next game. Boys that deliver up to 40 pitches must have a day of rest between pitching appearances. Those who reach the maximum pitch limit for their age cannot pitch for three days.
"You don't have to think as much," Serenil said. "We have one person dedicated to the pitch count. When we get to 16 pitches he'll alert me and I'll make the change."
That philosophy means most teams routinely put as many as four boys on the mound in a given game. Not only does constant pitching changes mean more pitchers are developed, it results in boys playing more positions.
Throughout the District 27 tournament at the Victoria Youth Sports Complex coaches have tapped the seven other field positions in search of a pitcher. Usually, the catcher for the inning is the only one immune from shifting during a mid-inning pitching change.
Victoria East baseball coach Wes Kolle said the experience hones a player's knowledge and skill in the game once they reach the high school level.
With this being the fifth year since Little League revised its pitching rules, many of the former Little League players have made their way to Kolle and other varsity coaches in the Crossroads.
"Obviously with the pitch count rules, for all teams to advance you have to develop a lot of arms," Kolle said. "You run into some players who have pitched at some point in their careers."
The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine suggests one of the ways to prevent baseball injuries is to rotate to other positions. As part of its Stop Sports Injuries campaign, the AOSSM has sport-specific suggestions to help young athletes avoid injury.
Among the other suggestions - avoid pitching on teams with overlapping seasons, don't pitch on consecutive days and never use a radar gun.
Kolle, a former Victoria High and Texas Lutheran pitcher, agreed. He said a Little Leaguer may adhere to the pitch count in that league, but then play select baseball and throw some more - unbeknownst to both coaches.
"You only have one right arm," Kolle said. "Once it's gone, your baseball career is pretty much gone. Taking preventative measures and running and icing after you throw is important."