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Copyright 2018 News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)

 

GREENSBORO — The increasing number of serious arm injuries to baseball pitchers has led to some rules changes at the high school level. A violation of one of those rules recently cost Page a game, but fortunately not a pitcher.

The Pirates' Jake Knapp exceeded the single-game pitch limit March 22 in a 3-1 win at Northwest Guilford. When the violation of the rule was reported and confirmed, Page forfeited the Metro 4-A Conference game and will be required to pay a $500 fine.

Pirates coach William Hardin and athletics director Rusty Lee did not respond to requests for comment. Leigh Hebbard, Guilford County Schools' director of athletics and driver's education, wrote in an email Wednesday: "The pitch-count violation at Page has been investigated and handled appropriately. Page's athletics director reported the violation to his principal and NCHSAA officials immediately."

The National Federation of State High School Associations mandated that its member associations impose pitch limits starting with the 2017 season after seeing the results of a study using data gathered through High School Reporting Information Online. The majority of shoulder and elbow injuries in baseball were sustained by pitchers, the study found, and most of those injuries were chronic and were caused by overuse.

As well as requiring rest between pitching appearances, the NCHSAA imposed a limit of 105 pitches per day.

Scott Bankhead, a 10-year major-league pitcher and a founder and owner of the N.C. Baseball Academy in Greensboro, likes the rules.

"The pitch count they've adopted, through the USA Baseball Pitch Smart program, is a good policy so that somebody's not out there throwing 129 pitches or more in a game and then potentially having the opportunity to come back and pitch again in a given week," said Bankhead, who pitched for Reidsville High and North Carolina. "That just protects kids' arms."

Knapp, who trains at Bankhead's academy, threw 129 pitches March 22 against Northwest Guilford. He did not pitch again until March 29, when he went 51/3 innings, threw 102 pitches and struck out 13 in a 5-4 loss at Ragsdale. Knapp is 3-0 with 45 strikeouts in 231/3 innings on 396 pitches — an average of 79.2 per appearance.

"While we regret that this happened, we do believe that it was an honest human error," Hebbard wrote in his email. "Coach Hardin has been extremely cooperative throughout this process (and has volunteered to pay the fine). Moving forward, Page hopes to ensure that this doesn't happen again by designating two adults for each team to count pitches."

Bankhead said things were different during his pitching career, which ended in 1995.

"There were no limits at all that I was aware of," he said. "It was more of a common sense thing for the coach and for the player. At the major-league level they obviously kept up with pitch counts a lot more than I remember at the high school or college level, and I'm sure I exceeded the safe amount of pitches many times according to the new guidelines. I did suffer some injuries later in my career (two shoulder surgeries), but I don't know if that had anything to do with it or not."

Bankhead said the best way to guard against arm injuries is to enforce strict pitch limits and mandatory rest between appearances for players as young as 8 or 9.

"It just seems to be rampant in the game today," he said of the elbow and shoulder injuries.

Contact Joe Sirera at (336) 373-7034, and follow @JoeSireraNR on Twitter.

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