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    Friday, September 22, 2023

    This state baseball tourney proves a pitch count rule is necessary

    There was considerable consternation a few months ago from state high school baseball coaches upon learning of new legislation from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state's governing body of high school athletics, which will introduce a new pitch count rule for the 2017 season.

    The rule will work on a sliding scale, requiring days of rest in proportion to pitches thrown.

    Snippets of moral outrage included the following: pitch count rules solve nothing, especially if the pitcher has good mechanics and conditions himself properly. (Really?) Kids develop differently: Some are sore after 20 pitches, some after 100. Pitch counts are too subjective because pitching has too many variables: physical makeup, strength, mechanics and mental toughness. And who would keep track of all this anyway?

    It all reeked of barn dropping then. It's worse now. Have you been paying attention to this particular state tournament and kids pitching without proper rest?

    Example I: Montville senior TT Bowens, headed to Central Connecticut, pitched a complete game last Wednesday, June 1. He started his team's quarterfinal Saturday. That's two days' rest. Insufficient.

    Example II: Wolcott senior Isaiah Negretti-Flannery pitched a complete game last Tuesday during a victory over Bacon Academy. He pitched in relief the next day during a 13-12 win over Ellington, in which he was the winning pitcher, started Saturday at Waterford (pitching a complete game), and started Tuesday night's semifinal against Haddam-Killingworth. The kid, very likely, approached 300 pitches in eight days.

    Sorry. Not cool. And the next time a coach or anybody else whines about the CIAC's new rule, refer to the aforementioned.

    We all get it: Less legislation is better than more, especially when it comes from people who are bigger on idealism than practicality. But the rule's creation and application exist to protect kids. That's never a bad thing.

    Excessive pitch counts and insufficient rest are a pox on amateur baseball. This is nothing new. Once again: To think we used to giggle at former New London American Legion coach Jim O'Neill, when he said there are four reasons coaches abuse the arms of their young pitchers:

    He's a big, strong kid.

    He said he felt fine.

    We didn't have anyone else.

    We really needed the game.

    Except it's more realistic than it is funny.

    There was no denying when the news broke that the rule was an indictment of high school baseball coaches in Connecticut. The CIAC's message was clear: We don't trust you.

    The CIAC has been proven correct.

    I have no problem with a coach pitching a kid on three days' rest — once — in the state tournament. If you are careful all season, ensuring your pitchers are properly rested, throw on the side between starts and don't double as the team's catcher, there's no problem with short (read: three days, not two) rest.

    But how many times do we see the same kid who starts Monday of the regular season start Friday, too? That's not enough rest, even if he is a big, strong kid. Even if he said he felt fine. Even if you didn't have anyone else. Even if you really needed the game.

    Seems to me that, you know, if David Price starts Monday, he's not coming back until Saturday, in the interest of protecting his arm. If such precautions apply to professionals, why would they not apply to kids, too, whose arms and bodies aren't nearly as developed?

    And how much more evidence from the medical community do we need? If renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews has concerns about the growing number of arm injuries for young pitchers — and he does — that ought to be enough for every league short of T-ball to ponder their procedures.

    Sorry if some coaches and people in the media don't like the new rule. Or can't fathom its application. There's time to work the details. Meanwhile, of far more importance is to ensure that kids are properly rested between starts.

    Two days' rest, even in the state tournament, is not acceptable. Happily, this won't be an issue beginning next season. Too bad the CIAC couldn't have implemented this sooner.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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