“Pound the zone,” “pitch to contact” and for anyone who wants to sound more intelligent, “make the hitter activate the baseball” are phrases that are not new. However, they will be heard more frequently this season as throwing strikes will be at a premium with the new pitch count rules in place. The response by local coaches and others with a stake in high school baseball has been fairly standard. No one expressed surprise and rather than complaining, coaches were more interested in how the game would be affected. Several local baseball people shared their feelings about the reason for the rule and some of the effects it may have.
Whiteville head coach Brett Harwood has the luxury of three highly regarded pitchers on his staff with state championship series experience. His concern is not developing pitchers as much as it is utilizing his pitch allotment to the team’s benefit. Harwood says, “We will definitely go right at the hitters. Defense has always been something we stress at Whiteville and now it becomes more important than ever. Giving your opponent extra outs is always bad, now it becomes exponentially harmful.” Lots of baseball people will be watching to see how Harwood uses senior lefty Mackenzie Gore. In previous seasons, Gore has been used in relief occasionally after a start two or three days prior. However, Gore rarely accumulated 105 or more pitches over any seven day period. Harwood goes on to say, “We have always been cognizant of pitch counts and keeping our players healthy. That will not change.”
Mackenzie’s father, Evan Gore, believes the pitch count rule is a good one. Mr. Gore says, “First, I have never had any concerns about our coaching staff putting winning above my son’s best interest. There have been times Mackenzie has wanted the ball and has been told no. But for the sake of every pitcher across the state and country, I think the rule is needed and sends the right message to coaches.”
Chuck Baldwin had an outstanding baseball career at Whiteville High and Clemson University, good enough to be drafted by the Cleveland Indians. Baldwin also has served as head coach at SCC and in local youth leagues. This gives Baldwin a multi-faceted point of view. Baldwin also has a personal stake in the pitch count rule as his oldest son Brooks, is one of the veteran returning pitchers for Whiteville. Baldwin says, “The 105 pitch limit is on the right track. I believe pitchers that are in shape, later in the season, would be fine throwing 40 pitches on consecutive days. The rule is OK, but I believe the injury problem stems from players not in shape and also not taking enough time off from baseball.”
West Columbus coach Jason Jones doesn’t have a problem with the rule, but doesn’t believe the rule will solve the injury problem. Jones came up with an interesting comparison. “ A long haul truck driver doesn’t end up getting knee replacement surgery because of a few extremely long trips. The replacement is due to repeatedly shifting gears over a long period of time.” Jones believes that proper mechanics are extremely important in injury prevention, but impossible to legislate. Jones goes on to say, “I injured my arm by making a throw I shouldn’t have early in the season. I had a strong arm that I developed by throwing daily. I just made a poor decision one day in January and I still suffer pain from it. A pitch count rule wouldn’t have helped me.” Don’t shed any tears for Coach Jones this spring. West Columbus returns three talented pitchers with extensive varsity pitching experience to share the load.
Brad Smith at East Columbus also has three senior pitchers that have seen extensive mound duty for the Gators. Smith goes a little “out of the box” with his thinking on the pitch count subject. He says, “We will consider using more intentional walks when we get behind hitters or when a base is open and a good hitter is at the plate.” In high school, batters can simply be put on first base without being pitched to. Smith also sees a downside to the rule. “On the 1A level, lots of teams are fortunate if they have two quality pitchers. Many smaller schools have limited resources (coaches) and facilities available during inclement weather.. It is going to be difficult to find and cultivate potential pitchers in the amount of time you have before the season. Somebody will end up forced to put players on the mound with little or no experience pitching on the high school level and that is troubling on several levels.”
South Columbus coach Bradley Strickland will be looking to replace inning-eaters Garrett Wilson and Evan Pickell. He is not a fan of the rule saying, “As the coach I know what my guys are capable of and how much they throw when playing other positions. We take that into account and also how deep we are in the season. I’m not going to abuse anyone.” Strickland, like Smith, points out a potential harmful situation. “Once a pitcher exceeds 75 pitches, the temptation will be to leave him out there for 30 more, even if he is struggling. Then you don’t use up another pitcher’s allotment. We are not going to do that at South Columbus, but the rule certainly opens up that possibility elsewhere.”
To get the perspective of a coach at a larger school we asked Richmond Senior High and former West Columbus coach Ricky Young for his thoughts. Young says, “I like the pitch count rule because I think it is important to do everything we can to keep kids arms healthy. Most of us already follow a similar plan to the one that the state adopted so it won’t be a huge change to what we have been doing. I think it will require more planning ahead in games and more attention to the graduated limits as the game progresses especially with multiple games in a week. It will be important for pitchers to understand the need to attack hitters and throw strikes rather than nibbling around the plate and running up their pitch count. It won’t change the way we construct our team at Richmond because we are lucky enough to have at least eight guys on our roster who can give us some innings.” Young also recognizes the disadvantage smaller schools face with less pitching prospects.
West Brunswick coach T.J. Spivey typically can be counted on to have different take on a situation. He did not disappoint. Spivey says, “I like the rule. I think it will make baseball more competitive at all levels. In my four seasons at West Brunswick only two pitchers have exceeded 105 pitches. Now, no longer can one arm be dominating enough to carry a team. We lost in the playoffs last season while facing a pitcher that threw 100+ pitches, two days prior to coming in and throwing 90 more against us. As for the 1A and 2A schools, everybody is playing by the same set of rules so I don’t see the disadvantage.” Spivey says the only concession he will make to the rule is pulling up a JV pitcher when the schedule calls for three games in a week.
No doubt about it, the upcoming high school baseball season will contain some interesting discussions. A few comments have been saved for a final installment. To close today, remember Satchel Paige’s quote, “Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.”