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RICHMOND, Va. -- The National Federation of State High School Associations has directed its members to regulate the number of pitches a high school player can throw in a game amid growing concerns about overworking young arms.
The federation did not proscribe a specific number, but a limit must be established by next season, said Elliot Hopkins, the NFHS director of sports and student services. The limits will go into effect in the spring of 2017.
All 50 states plus the District of Columbia are federation members, Hopkins said Tuesday. Each state except Michigan has its own sports medicine advisory committee that will likely be involved in settling on a specific number.
"I think they're better suited to determine what the number is," Hopkins said, noting the number in warmer climates, where baseball season starts earlier, might be higher.
Some states such as Texas have already established their limit at 125 pitches, and Alabama, Colorado and Kentucky have said that will be their number, too, Hopkins said. Minnesota will use 105 during the season and 115 or 120 in playoffs.
Anecdotal evidence suggested it was time to make the change. As a member of the USA Baseball sports medicine advisory committee, Hopkins said he sits between well-known sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews and former major league pitcher Tommy John at meetings. Andrews in 1974 pioneered a surgery, first performed on and then named for Tommy John, that reconstructs the ulnar collateral ligament in a pitcher's elbow, allowing pitchers to resume their careers after rehabilitation.
"During those meetings, Dr. Andrews always expressed how more and more of his service, and his surgeries, revolved around younger kids," Hopkins said.
USA Baseball, the national governing body for amateur baseball, in 2014 launched the program "Pitch Smart," which sets age-appropriate guidelines for the number of pitches a pitcher as young as 7 can throw and the amount of rest pitchers should get between pitching appearances. Most amateur baseball leagues have adopted the guidelines, which set 120 pitches as the maximum recommended for pitchers ages 19-22. The guidelines then also require they receive four days of rest.
One impact Hopkins hopes will come from the rule change will be the involvement of more players.
"You have maybe three or four pitchers in your bullpen typically," he said. "Now, we'll get some kids who really can't throw five innings, can't give you five innings, but they can give you a solid two, and now you've got a bullpen and you get more kids involved."
The federation will no longer require its member associations to require a certain amount of rest between appearances by a pitcher.
Virginia coach Brian O'Connor, whose team won the national championship in 2015, called the changes "a step in the right direction" but was not sure a single pitch count number will have the desired effect.
"Somebody could throw 75 pitches three different times in a week," he said.
"It's not a be all, end all," said Sean Ryan, a high school coach in Richmond whose team at Benedictine plays in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association and will not be subjected to the federation rules. He noted that a young pitcher often moves to another position during a game, or in the team's next game, where he continues throwing in between innings and in the game.
Like other sports, youth baseball has a cottage industry offering year-round, specialized instruction. O'Connor said he is a big believer in athletes playing several sports, not just baseball.
"It has everything to do with, I think, other sports creating better athleticism in players and I think it's important that they stay competitive year round," he said. "I would rather see them on a basketball court working together as a team and staying physically active and competing to win."