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NEW YORK – A rule change that began this season in New York City’s Public School Athletic League has tweaked the meaning of "you’re out" in baseball.
It used to be only three strikes. Now, it’s also 105 pitches.
“It’s a new rule that we just have to follow just like three strikes or four balls,” School of the Future ace Anthony Vargas said. “Do I like the new rule? Not really. But rules are rules.”
Varsity pitchers in the PSAL now have a cap of 105 pitches for one game and junior varsity hurlers can’t throw more than 90. Once they hit the pitch limit they must be removed from the mound and cannot return until after a mandatory rest period.
The PSAL, with a push from city politicians, enforced the rule this season in an effort to prevent arm injuries in the present and foreseeable future.
“Baseball is a popular sport in our schools and we want to make sure our student athletes are playing to the best of their ability without getting serious long-term injuries and the limit on pitch counts aims to do just that,” PSAL executive director Donald Douglas said in a statement before the season began.
The PSAL is not commenting on the rule change again until after the season, spokesman Marge Feinberg said. But they do report that there have been no injuries this season.
The rules also stipulate that varsity pitchers are required to rest for four consecutive days after pitching more than 91 times in a single game, three days if they pitch between 76 to 90 times, two days if they pitch between 51 to 75 times and one day if they pitch between 26 to 50 times in a game. Junior varsity pitchers are required to rest for four consecutive days if they pitch more than 81 times in a single game, three days if they pitch between 61 and 79 times, two days if they pitch between 41 to 60 times and one day if they pitch between 21 and 40 times in a game.
Coaches will be held accountable for pitch counts during the game and if it is revealed their pitcher went over the pitch limit they will be subject to a one-game suspension.
The new rule has sparked a debate amongst coaches and players in New York City.
James Madison coach Vincent Caiazza said he gets the sense that most coaches in the league disagree with the rule.
“It’s a waste,” he said. “It’s ludicrous because high school kids these days do double duty. If they reach the limit on Monday they will be playing shortstop or centerfield on Wednesday throwing the ball just has hard 40 more times.”
He said the focus should be more on how the young pitchers condition.
“That is how you will prevent injuries,” he said. “Not by throwing up a random number for a pitch count.”
Some coaches disagree with Caiazza.
Grand Street Campus coach Melvin Martinez said the rule was “absolutely necessary.”
“I like it because it protects our pitchers,” he said. “Over the years I have seen pitchers throw up to 140 pitches in a game. That’s too much. Professional pitchers don’t throw that many. I like the rule.”
What do the players think?
Vargas leads the PSAL this season in pitches thrown (674) and strikeouts (80) in seven games this season.
On two occasions he was pulled from the game because he reached his pitch limit.
“I didn’t like it,’” he said. “We still ended up winning, but I would feel terrible if I had to leave a game with a 1-0 lead late in the game. I understand why they are doing it. They don’t want our body to break down. But I also know my body and a lot of times I feel like I can go a lot longer than 105 pitches.”
His coach, Felix Shen, said he has mixed emotions about the rule change.
“It changes the way we have to manage and sometimes you can’t have who you want pitching because of the rule,” he said. “But I understand why they have a limit now. Baseball, in general, from the Majors and down, is more sensitive about arm injuries more than ever. So I see a need for it at the high school level.”
The rule rooted after PSAL received requests from parents and the City Council to look into the number of pitches thrown. The PSAL then spent last season monitoring pitch counts and reviewing its findings with the City’s Office of School Health, PSAL coaches and medical experts.
“We want our students to participate in high school sports and lead healthy, active lifestyles,” said Deputy Chancellor of Operations Kathleen Grimm. “At the same time, we want to prevent long-term injuries and we believe limiting pitch counts will achieve this and at the same time keep the sport competitive. The safety of our students is a top priority.”
Rule raises questions
With the playoffs looming the rule will definitely change the way coaches manage the game.
“Ideally you want your ace out there as much as possible,” Shen said. “Now you have to adapt and follow the rule. One good thing is that it also gives some other kids a chance to shine.”
The rule also poses the questions like, “What if the pitcher has a no-hitter, or what if it’s a tight game in the final inning of the state championship?”
“I’m going to leave him in,” Caiazza said. “I wouldn’t take a no-hitter from a kid … If I have a kid throwing 90 mph and it is 1-0 and he is nearing his pitch limit, I want him in the game. But now they tell us we have to pull him? That’s not how baseball is played. That’s not strategy.”
The PSAL plans to continue the rule in the future.
Caiazza said he will continue to fight against it along with colleagues.
“A lot of coaches agree with me,” he said. “This isn’t a rule made by baseball people. It’s a rule made by people who sit behind desks.”