Pitch limits now a part of Little League baseball

The 12-year-olds can’t throw more than 85 times to the plate.

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Bottom of the sixth, two outs, no runners on base. Twelve-year-old Daniel Inmacolato was tantalizingly close to throwing a no-hitter.

Then his manager walked out to mound. Daniel had reached 85 pitches — the most a Little League pitcher can throw in a game under new rules this year.

Goodbye no-hitter.

“I got to 85 and he took me out,” said Daniel, kicking dirt with his spikes during a recent summer baseball camp as he recalled his gem earlier this year. “I didn’t feel bad, but I kind of wanted to get a no-hitter.”

The pitch count rules made their debut during the regular season this year, and will be in place for the first time at the Little League World Series, which begins Friday. Under the old system, pitchers were limited to six innings, the length of a regulation game.

The change was made in hopes of reducing wear and tear on youngsters’ arms.

A survey by Little League Baseball found that 70 percent of local league presidents thought there was no negative impact from the new regulations.

Split decision

Coaches split 50-50 over whether the rules led to fewer sore arms or injuries, though 70 percent said it forced coaches to develop more pitchers.

“I think the acceptance of the rule and the implementation of the rule for the regular season has exceeded our expectations,” Little League president Stephen Keener said. “It’s actually gone really well.”

But it has created some intrigue on the diamond.

Pitchers might be cruising through an opposing lineup when they run into their pitch-count limit.

In Inmacolato’s near no-hitter, a reliever came in and promptly walked the next batter, then allowed a hit before finally getting the third out.

“If you take all the considerations together, it’s probably a good idea,” Daniel’s mother, Rita, said about the pitch count rules.

Bill Ogden, of Toms River, N.J., kept his 13-year-old son, Patrick, from pitching this season because of shoulder soreness he developed playing football, though Patrick did play the field during the regular season. He finally took the mound for an inning at summer camp.

“Pitch count, the way it’s evolved, it’s positive from the standpoint that it protects our kids,” Bill Ogden said.

Managing headaches

It has also created some headaches for managers. Gone are the days when a team with one or two aces could steamroll the opposition.

More pitchers must be developed to build depth. A manager may be in a bind if forced to go deep into the bullpen, potentially messing up starting rotation plans.

“It’s not easy,” Bill Pringle, manager of an all-star team in DuBois, Pa., said before a recent district tournament game.

Staring into the distance, his graying hair and furrowed brow made him look as if he were about to manage Game 7 of the World Series against the Yankees.

“You just hope your pitcher can go long, so you don’t have to pull them out, use another and then another one,” Pringle said. “To go down three pitchers in one game, it’s tough.”

At the Little League World Series, pitchers will be limited to 85 pitches per outing. Those who throw more than 20 pitches may not pitch in consecutive games. Anyone who throws 46 or more pitches in a game must rest at least two days before retaking the mound.

Break the rules and a team must forfeit.

Value of defense

The new rules make good defense and throwing strikes even more valuable, said Marty Kaverman, an assistant coach on a team from Millcreek, Pa. Putting the ball in play is key; full counts and foul balls can hurt.

“It’s funny to sit in the dugout and think it’s good when a kid hits a single on the first pitch, but you’re happy he didn’t walk on four or five or six pitches,” Kaverman said.

His team didn’t complain about the rule. If anything, players were more aware of how close they were to the limit, he said.

“Kids would come back to the dugout and ask, ‘Where am I? What do I have left?’ ” he said.

Pitching under the new limits for the first time, Shae Stobert, 12, of Butler Township, Pa., said his arm felt stronger this year than during last year’s playoffs.

“This year it made more sense to me and it was a lot cooler,” Stobert said. “This year, I had a lot more confidence and my arm felt well.”

Inmacolato, the 12-year-old from northern Virginia who narrowly missed a no-hitter, likes throwing hard. With a big grin, he said his specialty is a fastball on the outside corner.

But while he doesn’t mind the new rules, he’d rather be playing shortstop, his favorite position.

“I like playing in the field,” he said, “because if the other team makes runs, it’s not my fault.”

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