Pitching rule chief among changes needed in spring

Going into this week, Somerset and Mount Union had each played five baseball games this year.

Mount Union has, hands-down, the best maintained field in our coverage area – simply because the Trojans’ skipper, Nick Imperioli, missed his calling by not becoming a groundskeeper. Somerset – where the Trojans played their final game last year, in the state tournament – has an artificial surface infield.

So, a team with turf and another with a pristine park had each played one game more than Mifflin County over the same span.

The relevance? Last week, one of my blabbermouth Facebook friends was yammering about the Huskies’ field and how the school district needs to do whatever it takes to have world-class athletic facilities, so the makeups would not all be packed into the back of the season.

I noted that he was not offering a multi-million dollar donation to pay for it.

The real problem lies with the PIAA, which has this crazy idea that late March is a good time to start outdoor sports in Pennsylvania.

The first two baseball games I went to this spring were so cold I expected to see Admiral Peary trudging across the outfield. A couple years back, we had postponements on 23 consecutive days to start the season. Two years earlier, most teams had played only a dozen games as the postseason cutoff approached.

March 21, the first say of the season this year, was way too early. Spring sports should be pushed back at least to the first week of April.

The PIAA could cut the number of games in the season – in fact, since the fall sports were trimmed to 18 competitions, I’ve been an advocate of limiting winter and spring to the same number. Those two moves would help, but still would force a lot of consecutive-day scheduling by the schools.

And the problem with that is, the pitching rule.

Pitching rules are designed to protect young arms from damage due to the repetitive motion of overhand throwing – a good thing. But the pitching rule used in high school games – and to be fair, numerous other leagues, including Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball – can cause as much harm as good, depending on the manager.

And that’s not a good thing at all.

Little League solved the problem by moving to pitch counts – and why every other youth league in the world has not adopted this sensible standard is beyond me. The innings rule, used by the PIAA, says:

A player may pitch in a maximum of nine innings in one day, but not more than fourteen innings in a week (Sunday through Saturday).

If he pitches in three innings or less in a day, no rest is required. The rule does limit a pitcher to three, three-inning days before a mandatory rest day kicks in.

If he pitches in four or five innings in a day, he must have two days of rest.

If he pitches in six or more innings in a day, he must have three days of rest.

Here’s the rub: One pitch constitutes an inning. And different pitchers of different strength and quality, facing different batters, are not always going to average the same number of pitches per inning. And, under that rule, you could pitch nine innings each on Saturday and Monday.

In those early season games I covered, there was a huge variance in pitching, and it created a disparity under the current rules that would not exist with pitch counts.

One young hurler threw 67 pitches in a single inning. He doesn’t have to rest at all. Another threw the ball 61 times in 3.2 innings, which requires two days of rest. Another threw 57 pitches, but stayed under three innings, so he can go the next day, and the day after that.

Under Little League rules, the first pitcher would have had to sit for three days, as would the second (although his coach could have limited that to two days by pulling him on one less pitch). Two days would have been the rule for the third pitcher as well.

But in the PIAA, only the kid who went 61 has to sit – but not the one who threw more pitches – because none of the others exceeded three innings. Under pitch count rules, two of the nine pitchers I saw in those games would have been subject to one day of rest, five to two days and two to three days.

No rule is perfect, and straight adoption of the Little League standard is probably not best for varsity high school baseball. But a rule that treats one pitch as equal to 67 is outrageous – and it’s one of the biggest reasons it’s so hard to play all the makeup games.

Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at jfishbein@lewistownsentinel.com.