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Pitch counts help Little Leaguers
Nathan Williams, who plays for the 12-and-under Cubs in the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Little League, pitches to a batter during a recent game. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

The arm is a terrible thing to waste.

That’s what Little League Baseball had in mind when it announced during the 2006 Little League World Series that it was changing its rules from allowing youngsters to pitch a certain number of innings per week to setting a limit on the number of pitches thrown.

Nearly three years later, the rule is working to perfection.

“For kids, it’s important at this age,” said Troy Patton, who coaches the Astros of the Gainesville Parks and Recreation’s Major League. “I think it helps kids rest their arms.”

Not working a pitcher’s arm too much is the main reason behind the rule, which was set in place after USA baseball received a report from the American Sports Medicine Institute based in Alabama devoted to learning about and preventing sports-related injures.

In that report, world-reknowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews noticed an increase in the number of young pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery, the common name for Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction. Andrews noted the number of surgeries he performed for high school and youth players went up from 19 between 1996 and 1999 to 146 between 2004 and 2007.

“I sell chickens for a living, he knows more about it than I do,” said John Wright, coach of the Braves. “Everybody agrees that you can hurt a youngster by not managing a pitch count.

“At this level, a kid can throw 100 pitches in an inning,” he added. “That’s why it’s better to limit pitches and not worry about innings pitched.”

Both the umpires and coaches keep track of counting pitches, and Gainesville Parks and Recreation even goes so far as sending out e-mails letting every coach know each kid’s pitch count. Everyone agrees that some management needs to be done, but not everyone agrees that the rule in place is perfect.

“It’s tough to manage the game with pitch counts,” Dodgers coach Horace Gee said. “There’s not enough kids that every team can have two or three quality pitchers. It makes it tough for teams every other game.”

The rule states pitchers ages 10-11 can throw 75 pitches per game, 12-year-olds can pitch 85 and nine-year-olds can toss 65. If a kid reaches 41 pitches then they can’t pitch the next game or enter the game as a catcher, and if they reach the maximum, they can’t pitch again for 72 hours.

As strict as those rules are, coaches are finding themselves monitoring the mark of 41 pitches and not the maximum.

“If my best pitcher throws 41 pitches and then we get rained out, he still can’t pitch in the next game,” Marlins coach Will Hudson said. “The rule says a physical game, I’d say they should just have to sit out 72 hours.”

Hudson also believes that something needs to be done about moving a pitcher to an outfield or infield position that requires a lot of throwing.

“They’re not out throwing all the time, but they’re throwing a lot harder and quicker,” he said.

While some coaches say the rule has some kinks in it, the majority of them believe that having a pitch count rule is necessary, regardless of whether you have to pull a kid who’s throwing a great game and you’re team ends up losing because of the rule.

“That’s Little League Baseball,” Wright said. “That’s gonna happen.”

So is pitching outside of the Gainesville Parks and Recreation League, which is another cause for concern.

“You have to communicate with their parents,” Wright said. “Volunteer coaches aren’t baby sitters. It’s up to the parents to monitor them and let us know what they’ve done outside of this league.”

Every coach said that parents are normally forthcoming about the goings on in travel ball or other leagues, and that if there was an issue of high pitch counts in a week, then they didn’t know about it.

“I’ve never come across a parent that’s not looking out for the best interest of the kid,” Wright said.

Through the monitoring of pitch counts, not only are parents looking out for the children, but Little League baseball is too.

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