When Jon Brewer took over as baseball coach at Chestatee High last summer, he knew the final week of February was going to be a grind.
Having five games against schools in Hall County was enough to keep his mind racing. On top of that, he had to juggle the new pitch-count rules passed down from the National Federation of States High School Associations and modified to fit the Georgia High School Association.
“I don’t like it, personally,” said Brewer. “Right now, it’s our lack of pitching depth that kills us with the new rules.”
The intent of the rule is to save pitchers from major arm injuries as a result of throwing too many pitches. An extra day of rest is required for each range of pitches, as clearly outlined by the new policy sent out by the GHSA, before taking the mound again. Under the new guidelines, pitchers can’t surpass 110 pitches after a complete at-bat by a hitter.
If a pitcher throws 86-110 pitches, he has to have three days rest before taking the hill again.
Coaches overwhelmingly like the concept of keeping high school players from experiencing season-ending, throwing-arm injuries. The opinion on limits for the pitches and days of rest required is where it gets a little more mirky.
“I think the intent of the rule is a great thing,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. “Protecting the arms of these players is a good thing.”
“I think something had to be done,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “The GHSA is trying to help with all the surgeries so many kids are having these days.”
A violation of these rules calls for the school receiving a $250 fine and the head coach being levied a two-game suspension. Any subsequent violations would result in a doubled fine, plus the coach would have to meet with the GHSA executive director before being reinstated.
To make it through that action-packed week at the end of the opening month, Brewer said he threw seven pitchers to accommodate the tight rules on pitch count, plus develop some depth for later in the season for the War Eagles.
Brewer added that for pitch-count measures to be most effective, it would be better tailored if it was crafted in the mold of professional baseball.
“If we’re going to have a pitch count, they should have four days between starts,” Brewer said, referring to how rotations work with a five-man pitching staff in the MLB.
If a pitcher doesn’t go over 35 pitches, he is able to go back out on the mound the next day.
Pitch count monitors are present at each game and compensated by the GHSA to report back the numbers of pitches for each player and enter it into a database, which is accessible to anyone on the GHSA website.
To comply with the rules, Brewer said he has about four people on hand keeping track of pitch count so he doesn’t land in hot water with the state’s governing body for athletics.
“I’m scared to death to go over the limits for pitches,” said Brewer, who is in his 10th season coaching high school baseball.
Riverside Military coach Mike Hutch thinks a pitch-count rule for pitchers at the high school level is a good concept, but feels a comprise could be reached to let the pitch count get higher as the season progresses and weather gets significantly warmer.
“I used to be a college coach,” said Hutch.” I think the only thing it’s going to hurt will be the kids who are going on to pitch at the next level.
“At the next level, you’ll be throwing 125, 130 and 135 pitches.”
Even though coaches think keeping players from potentially injuring their arms is a good thing, the new rules will greatly affect strategy for those who make the postseason. With a best-of-three games format in each round of the postseason, it will make coaches take into consideration how long a pitcher may go in the doubleheader on the first day of each round, knowing if they split, there will be a deciding Game 3 the following day.
During a three-game playoff series, players are now capped at 120 pitches total, unless the series is stretched out because of a weather delay.
“It’s (pitch-count rules) going to be huge in the playoffs,” said Kemp, who said he has three people keeping track of pitches during the game. “You’ll see teams winning that may not have advanced in the past because you can’t just bring back your No. 1 starter on the second day and let him throw a complete game.”
Brewer said that exact situation happened while he was coaching at Rockdale County in the first round of the playoffs in 2016. After a first-day split, the other coach was able to march his ace back out on the mound to throw another seven innings.
Lakeview Academy coach Deuce Roark said the pitch-count rules are good as a deterrent to coaches who stretch pitchers too far in each stint.
“I like the new pitch-count rules,” said Roark. “It sets clear boundaries for how much you can use each pitcher.”
“We’re here for the kids,” Riverside Military’s coach said. “We’re not here to hurt a kid.
“Overall, I think it’s a good rule.”