MSHSL pitch count rule changes coaching strategy

Sports Editor

Editor’s note: this is the second of what will be a three-part series story on the Minnesota State High School League’s pitch count rule and it’s intended effect on young pitchers. You can read the first part of the series online at http://bit.ly/2tGjjSN.

The Minnesota State High School League’s implementation of its pitch count rule prior to the start of the 2017 season was intended to have a direct effect on its young pitchers, the rule also had an impact on the state’s coaches.

While most coaches know to not let their pitchers throw over 105 pitches in a single outing, the rule’s biggest impact came from the rules regarding a pitcher’s mandatory rest period between outings. Pitchers that throw 1-30 pitches in a single outing can pitch the next day, while pitchers that throw 31-50 pitches must rest one day, pitchers that throw 51-75 pitches must rest two days and pitchers that throw 76-105 pitches must rest three days. For the lower levels, pitchers that throw 1-25 pitches can pitch the next day, pitchers that throw 26-35 pitches must rest one day, pitchers that throw 36-60 pitches must rest two days and pitchers that throw 61-85, the maximum amount for lower-level pitchers, must rest three days. Pitchers are not allowed to throw three days in a row.

The pitch count rule did not seem to pose a problem for some of the state’s larger programs, as they had the pitching depth to be able to put together a solid rotation of pitchers, but some of the state’s smaller programs had to work on developing pitchers to be able to compete on a nightly basis.

Park Center, one of the area’s younger and smaller programs, put an emphasis on developing pitchers this season. Park Center head coach Nathan Johnson said he didn’t allow his pitchers to hit a number close to the limit, but the team’s depth was a concern this season.

In an effort to help programs like Park Center expand its pitching staff, the MSHSL, beginning with the 2018 season, will allow teams to begin practices one week earlier to begin to stretch pitchers out for the season.

“The pitch count rule, to be honest, has never really come into play for us,” Johnson said. “We really didn’t let our pitchers get that close, they were always in that 75-80 range.

“We had to be smart and rely on what we could get from our pitchers and plan out the week ahead. We had to tell the guys to be ready, some of them might not consider themselves pitchers, but they just became one. For a smaller program that doesn’t have the big numbers, everyone has to contribute in a small way.”

Holy Angels head coach Mike Rothstein often relied on his pitchers to pitch deep into games, but he said he would not have his pitchers throw over 105 pitches even before the rule was implemented this year.

“Any sane coach that has any brain in their head won’t violate that,” Rothstein said. “It’s a pretty good standard, the number they give us, but the difference is the rest in between appearances.

“I think only once this year we had to take a guy out when I didn’t want to. I’m OK with it, any coach that has been around the game long enough knows 105 is the max and 75 to 105 is the next tier.”

With the mandatory rest period, coaches had to carefully piece together how they were going to approach a week’s slate of games. Despite the extra work, the general consensus appears to be that coaches are in favor of the rule.

“I feel for the handful of coaches that probably abuse the pitchers and take advantage of it,” Johnson said. “It might have handcuffed a couple of teams or a couple of players that maybe needed to go close to that limit, if not push it.

“I think it’s up and down, it will take some time to get used to it and see how it affects not only our situation, but some of the larger programs.”

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