Area high school baseball coaches weigh in on OHSAA's pitch count rule

CINCINNATI -- Badin High School baseball coach Brion Treadway was glad to discuss high school baseball this week given the fact it was a dreary mid-January afternoon.

And he’s also happy to see his sport continue to make efforts to prevent pitching injuries.

On Thursday, the Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors approved a proposal that puts in place a nationally mandated pitch count restriction in Ohio high school baseball this spring.

"The arm safety and arm health are very important to these guys,” Treadway said. “I think it’s worth the effort to enter the information.

“As a high school coach you definitely want to air on the side of caution with pitchers.”

The first day of official OHSAA baseball coaching is Feb. 20. The season begins March 25 across the state.

Last summer, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) informed all states that they were required to have a pitch count limit instead of a regulation based on innings pitched over a certain number of days.

“We knew it was coming,” Mason coach Curt Bly said. “To their credit, the OHSAA pulled in as many voices as possible for this discussion.”

Previously in Ohio high school baseball, a pitcher could pitch up to 10 innings in a three-day span. Each state was tasked with determining its own regulation.

The new OHSAA pitch count regulation calls for a maximum of 125 pitches permitted in a day, and contains several other details such as the number of days required between pitching appearances based on the number of pitches thrown.

The OHSAA has set a standard for the number of days between pitching appearances after throwing.

For 1-30 pitches on a given day, no days of rest are required. For 31 to 50 pitches, one day of rest is required. (A player may still play the field but can’t be on the mound).

For 51-75 pitches there are two days of rest required. For 76 or more pitches, three days of rest required.

Lakota East coach Ray Hamilton, the Southwest District representative to the state coaches’ association, said the regulation just makes sense.

Lakota East coach Ray Hamilton said protecting a pitcher’s health is a top priority as a coach.

“I think it’s huge,” Hamilton said. “You go to the state clinic and listen to the medical experts. You try to stay in front of the safety issues.”

If a pitcher throws at least 31 pitches in a game, he may not pitch in another game that day.

“The purpose of the rule is to protect our student-athletes,” Bly said.

Dr. Timothy Kremchek, in his 21st season as the Cincinnati Reds medical director and chief orthopaedic surgeon, has been a champion in the region for pitch counts. He applauds the OHSAA for reaching a decision.

But he also suggests a closer look at the age levels for pitch counts in high school. He doesn’t believe the same pitch count should be uniformly applied for a freshman and a senior. The OHSAA does not distinguish between varsity and sub-varsity levels. It said the pitch count is for grades 7-12.

“For a ninth grader who hasn’t thrown in a high school baseball game and is 14 or 15 years old, they are trying to throw the ball as hard as they can,” Dr. Kremchek said. “They have the same pitch count as a 12th grader.”

Dr. Kremchek is also the director of Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine/The Christ Hospital Health Network Sports Medicine Outreach Program, which treats student-athletes.

Dr. Timonthy Kremchek is a proponent of pitch counts for high school baseball.

He's seen the impact of hard throwers and curve ball throwers in the high school games. He said coaches, athletes and parents are getting smarter about taking precautions, but he still has performed too many Tommy John surgeries over the years.

Dr. Kremchek said younger pitchers tend to use their upper body more when throwing instead of their core and the harder they throw a greater chance for fatigue and possible arm injuries.

“We do know that if you throw at least 90 miles per hour there is a 250 percent chance of injuring your arm,” Dr. Kremchek said.

OHSAA Assistant Commissioner Jerry Snodgrass organized a committee in December to look into the pitch count issue. He spoke with the state coaches’ association Thursday after the board of directors approved the measure.

OHSAA Assistant Commissioner Jerry Snodgrass

Snodgrass gathered feedback and perspective from several parties involved the past few months. Some states had daily pitch counts as high as 135 while others were at 115.

“We continue to look at further ways in which these limitations will affect teams as well as providing adequate education for our coaches and those in non-school baseball,” Snodgrass said.

Pitching injuries aren't limited to high school. They occur in summer baseball and at the youth levels.

Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams said he's in favor of anything that promotes pitchers' health.

"Pitch counts are a step in the right direction," Williams said. "And it's going to help protect these guys. But, as we all know, 50 pitches can come in all different varieties. You can have a pitcher throw 50 pitches in one inning, or he can throw them in seven innings. I think a lot of the pitch coaches would tell you, you do need to keep some context in mind. I'd be interested to see how they address that."

Dick Williams likes what he hears from the OHSAA policy on pitch counts.

Indiana approved a pitch count measure in October. The Indiana High School Athletic Association has a daily pitch count of 120 pitches for varsity levels or 90 in a sub-varsity level game/calendar day.

Anyone who throws at least 36 pitches in a varsity game or 26 in sub-varsity must receive one day of required rest. Any pitcher who throws more than 60 pitches over two days will be required one day of rest.

Kentucky had pitch counts in place for the 2016 season. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has a daily maximum of 120 pitches for varsity levels.

For varsity, with 76 pitches or more, three days of rest are required. With 51 to 75 pitches, two days of rest are required. With 26-50 pitches, one day is required. From one to 25 pitches there is no mandated rest required.

One competitive issue that may arise could be the impact on smaller division programs in Ohio. Smaller schools tend to have less depth on their pitching staffs than their Division I counterparts.

At Moeller, no one pitches more than 80 pitches in a game and gets at least five days of rest the first two weeks of the season, Crusaders coach Tim Held said. Moeller does allow pitchers to go between 100-110 the final few weeks and during the tournament.

But, Held also sees a scenario where smaller divisions could be impacted by the required amount of rest between pitching appearances.

If rain disrupts a week, a team may play several games the following week. The number of available pitchers could be challenged. But it could also encourage the development of other “arms” on the team.

Another factor to consider, area coaches said, is the baseball season may be extended by a week or two into mid-June.

Compared to surrounding states, Ohio has the shortest length of season to play the permitted number of baseball games (27 games in 42 days).

The pitch count impact will be felt immediately. A team would forfeit any victorious contest in which a player violates the pitch count regulation. If the daily pitch count is reached during an at bat, a pitcher may exceed the pitch count only to finish pitching to the current batter.

All pitches thrown during a game that becomes suspended or interrupted (due to weather or darkness, for example) shall count toward the pitch count regulation. All pitches thrown in a scrimmage or preview also will count toward the regulation.

The OHSAA will provide a link for coaches to input their pitch counts in order to comply with the regulation.

Area coaches say the effort is worth the time if it helps their team and more importantly the student-athlete’s health and future plans.

“As far as the health of the player, nobody can be against it,” Hamilton said. “Your No. 1 priority is to have these come through and play.”

WCPO's Ken Broo contributed to this reporting.

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