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National Federation to Limit Number of Throws for H.S. Baseball Pitchers

The National Federation of State High School Associations' board of directors approved a rule change earlier this week that requires each state's member federation to adopt a limit on the number of pitches that baseball players can throw during a game.

Previously, the NFHS required each state association to have "a pitching restriction policy to afford pitchers a reasonable rest period between pitching appearances," which were mostly based on the number of innings pitched. As Chris Boone of NFHS.org noted last March, one state limited pitchers to nine innings in one day and no more than 15 innings within a seven-day period.

The NFHS will not mandate specifics for each state's policy, but states can no longer base their pitching restrictions on innings rather than the number of pitches thrown.

"We're pleased that the rules committee worked in conjunction with the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to find an acceptable and reasonable modification to this rule in order to emphasize the risk that occurs when pitchers overuse their throwing arm," said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and staff liaison for baseball, in a statement.

Last February, the Colorado High School Athletics Association approved a pitch-count proposal that went into effect this past season, which required rest days based on the number of pitches a player throws in a given day, either in a practice or a game. Varsity pitchers who threw 35 or fewer pitches in a day weren't required to have a day of rest, but those who threw 36-60 pitches must rest one day. Those who throw 61-85 must rest two days, and pitchers throwing 86-110 pitches must rest three days. The state's old rule limited pitchers to no more than 12 innings in three consecutive days.

The NFHS is perhaps drawing inspiration from Major League Baseball, which debuted its "Pitch Smart" initiative in November 2014 to preserve the arms of young baseball pitchers by limiting their wear and tear. The initiative produced a set of recommendations for pitchers at each age level, including the maximum number of throws they should make on a given day and how much rest they should have between outings.

Other states have already been toying with the idea of pitch counts even before the NFHS' latest rule change. According to Jacob Unruh of The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association adopted a trial pitch count rule in June that will only be in effect for the regular season, while its current innings limit will remain in place for the playoffs. Oklahoma's new rule will limit pitchers to no more than 120 pitches on a given day, and those who throw at least 100 must have four days of rest between outings. The Illinois High School Association likewise began "mulling a rule" earlier this year that would cap the number of pitches allowed in a given day, according to John Keilman of the Chicago Tribune.

Major League Baseball praised the NFHS for taking this step to reduce wear and tear on the arms of young pitchers.

"We are pleased to see the NFHS taking this significant step towards curtailing pitcher use and fatigue," said Chris Marinak, MLB's senior vice president of league economics and strategy, in a statement. "The health of high school pitchers is critical to the future prosperity of our sport. We will continue to work alongside USA Baseball as we further proliferate this important initiative."

Last month, physicians at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush, a Chicago-based hospital, called for all states to enact pitch-count limits for youth baseball pitchers, noting a majority of Tommy John surgeries between 2007 and 2011 were conducted on youth pitchers between the ages of 15 and 19.

"Elbow and shoulder injuries in throwing athletes have increased greatly in the past decade, and there is no sign of them slowing down because young elite pitchers are throwing faster and harder than ever in hopes of playing college ball and making the pros," said Dr. Greg Nicholson, a sports medicine physician at Midwest Orthopedics, in a statement. "That's why it's imperative for all high school state associations throughout the country to take action and regulate high school pitch count."

The NFHS granted the doctors' wish Tuesday. It's now up to each state's association to hammer out the specifics of their newly mandated pitch-count restrictions.

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