Arms race: New HS pitch-count rule has coaches, pitchers under microscope

Arms race: New HS pitch-count rule has coaches, pitchers under microscope

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Arms race: New HS pitch-count rule has coaches, pitchers under microscope

Chaparral High School pitcher Ben Kirke throws to Verrado High as seen in this in camera multiple exposure on Mar. 7, 2017 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Chaparral High School pitcher Ben Kirke throws to Verrado High as seen in this in camera multiple exposure on Mar. 7, 2017 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Skylar Brooks struck out 18 batters in Chino Valley’s season-opening 6-2 baseball victory last week over Williams.

But the senior was pulled one out from completing the victory. He had reached 104 pitches, according to his coach’s bookkeeping.

The next night, in Scottsdale, Chaparral senior Casey Candiotti was pulled one out from a complete game, after having a no-hitter broken up, in a 10-2 win over Nogales. He had reached 100 pitches.

The new pitch-count rule that 48 of the 50 states have enforced at the high school level is in full effect. And Arizona, according to research by Baseball America, is among three states (along with Maryland and Florida) that have the strictest rules, following Pitch Smart.

High school juniors and seniors can throw no more than 105 pitches in an outing.

For Brooks and Candiotti, they must rest the next four days because both threw at least 76 pitches.

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For freshmen and sophomores, it is 95 pitches per outing as the maximum. A freshman has to rest four days if he threw at least 66 pitches, a sophomore four days if he threw 76.

“I understand the rule and why it was implemented,” Chino Valley coach Mark Middleton said.

Candiotti, whose father, Tom, pitched 16 years in the major leagues, said he wasn’t disappointed to come out with two outs in the seventh inning after giving up his first hit.

“I kept pounding the zone, and it almost happened,” Casey Candiotti said. “He took me out at 100 pitches, which I was fine with.”

Tommy John surgeries have become such an epidemic on the high school level that something was bound to happen.

According to Baseball America, a 2015 study by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine discovered 57 percent of the surgeries were done on kids 15 to 19 years old, from 2007 and 2011.

Big major league baseball money is tied up in pitchers, and scouts and general managers are concerned about having damaged goods before each draft.

This is a start to help curtail arm troubles in high school.

But specialization in sports at pre-high school age has led to wear and tear on elbows and shoulders with kids playing baseball year-round, involved in travel club teams, where there is little to no break during the year. Parents hire pitching coaches, try to find the best ways to get an edge with little to no knowledge on how much arm use is becoming abuse.

When pitchers see scouts lined up behind backstops, pointing radar guns at them, they can’t help but have their adrenaline ramped up.

“Guys are taught now to throw as hard as they can with all of the radar guns,” said Tom Candiotti, a radio color commentator for the Diamondbacks. “They lose their mechanics, and when that happens, it stresses out the elbows.

“The other thing is preventative care and doing proper exercises. There’s no way around it. You’re taking a chance every time you pitch. But I think it’s a good thing. The way it used to be in club ball, guys were allowed so many innings a tournament. Some guys were pitching three days in a row.”

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Doug Mapson, the national cross-checker scout for the San Francisco Giants, is a big proponent of the book, “The Arm: Inside The Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports” by Jeff Passan.

“Kids need a break,” said Mapson, a former longtime high school coach in California. “They should have three months off without throwing overhand to protect their growth plates.

“It’s tough when you put the responsibility with the coaches. They want to win. Kids want to compete.

“In California, they had a rule, where you can pitch 10 innings a week. What happened, we drafted a kid who was in the state playoffs. He pitched seven innings on a Tuesday. They played the finals on Friday. He had three innings left. He started at first base. Whenever the team was in trouble, they brought him in to pitch. He was damaged good for his career, even though the coach followed the letter of the law.”

Coaches are now having to develop deeper pitching staffs with relievers needing to be ready to go.

“Luckily, I have eight pitchers,” Tucson Desert View coach Anthony Chavez said. “I have to focus on developing more pitchers at the JV level.”

Chaparral High pitchers Casey Candiotti and Ben Kirke (right) on March 7 in Scottsdale.

Chaparral High pitchers Casey Candiotti and Ben Kirke (right) on March 7 in Scottsdale.

It can get tricky for smaller schools that don’t have the depth that bigger schools do, especially when tournaments are played and the season is condensed with more three-game weeks.

“The season needs to be stretched out,” Gilbert Perry coach Damien Tippett said. “I feel that the spring season is the most compact season of the year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more three-game weeks crammed into one high school season as I have this year.

“I would like to see the season begin in mid-February and not late February.”

Former major league baseball outfielder Tim Salmon has to be concerned with pitches more than ever at Scottsdale Christian, a small school that plays in 2A.

“When Major League Baseball is trying to shorten the length of the game, this pitch count is going to lengthen the games,” Salmon said. “There is paperwork. You’re constantly checking. It’s a challenge until you get it figured out. There can be a knee-jerk reaction for 10 percent of the coaches. Most coaches are pretty smart. It’s not a big issue with abuse. Major League Baseball put its stamp on Pitch Smart, so that’s good.

“I’ve got to be on top of it now. That’s the learning curve for coaches, how to manage your players.”

Old-school coaches like Tom Succow of Phoenix Brophy Prep and Eric Kibler of Phoenix Horizon like the pitch-count rule.

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“I think it is working out just fine,” Kibler said. “It holds coaches accountable and keeps pitchers safe from overuse.”

Succow, vice president of the Arizona Baseball Coaches Association, agrees.

“So far, the pitch-count initiative is working fine,” he said. “It is a bit awkward signing paperwork at the conclusion of a game, but all in all it is in the best interest of the student-athlete.”

The main thing is enforcing the rule.

David Hines, assistant executive director of the AIA, said that both teams keep track of the pitches during the game. The two head coaches meet after the game and sign off on the paperwork. If there is a discrepancy, the home team overrules.

Hines said one violation could lead to advisement or a warning for that school. But abuse of the rule could lead to probation, making that school ineligible for the playoffs.

So far, no school has reported a violation over the rule, Hines said.

“Both coaches submit the pitch counts on MaxPreps,” Hines said. “We’ve had a couple of reports where the coaches thought the AD had to enter it. I’ve heard of one discrepancy so far.

“The whole point is protecting kids’ arms.”

Arizona Pitch Smart guidelines

Freshman: 95 maximum pitches. No days rest if throwing 0-20 pitches. One day rest if throwing 21-35 pitches. Two days off if throwing 36-50 pitches. Three days off for 51-65 pitches. Four days for 66-plus pitches.

Sophomore: 95 maximum. No days off with 1-30 pitches. One day rest after 31-45 pitches. Two days after 46-60 pitches. Three days after 61-75 pitches. Four days after 76-plus pitches.

Junior: 105 maximum. No days off with 1-30 pitches. One day off with 31-45 pitches. Two days off with 46-60 pitches. Three days off with 61-75 pitches. Four days off with 76-plus pitches.

Senior: 105 max. No days off with 1-30 pitches. One day off with 31-45 pitches. Two days off with 46-60 pitches. Three days off with 61-75 pitches. Four days off with 76-plus pitches.

Source: Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Suggest human interest stories to Richard Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.

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