High school baseball: McHenry County players, coaches adjust to IHSA pitch count limits

Woodstock North pitcher Cory Busse hadn’t allowed a hit through six innings. He was ready to head to the mound for the seventh with a 1-0 lead when coach John Oslovich told him he had thrown 98 pitches.

Under the new IHSA pitch count limit, he only had seven pitches to work with.

Busse said he didn’t know he was throwing a no-hitter. Even so, he was gunning for the complete game.

“We didn’t tell him to throw this way, but he knew in order to get through that inning on the pitch count, he had to throw strikes,” Oslovich said.

He threw two strikes to Marengo’s Brayden Quick before Quick shot the third one into center field for a triple. Busse needed five pitches to strike out the next batter and had to exit the game (pitchers still can finish an at-bat in which they reach 105 pitches).

“I let the kid get on and I want to be the one to finish the inning,” Busse said. “It’s frustrating. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

The bullpen blew the lead, and the Thunder trailed, 2-1, heading into the bottom of the seventh. Thankfully for Busse and his teammates, North rallied to win.

This is the new caveat in high school baseball.

The National Federation of State High School Associations mandated that every state create a pitch count limit, and the IHSA settled on 105 pitches.

Additionally, pitchers are mandated rest days on a sliding scale: Throw 31 to 45 pitches, a player must rest a day; 46 to 60 pitches, two days; 61 to 75 pitches, three days; 76 to 105 pitches, four days.

The rule is in place to protect young arms. But it has created minor changes in procedure for teams.

Coaches are required to enter pitch totals into an online logging system provided by the IHSA. The program then projects when a player can pitch again.

North’s Oslovich prints that matrix out and keeps it with him during games, both his pitchers and the opponent’s. If Busse hadn’t had a limit in the no-hit bid against Marengo, Oslovich said he would have left him in.

“He knew that number was close,” Oslovich said. “He ended up making a mistake and, to their credit, they hit the ball.”

Nothing but cooperation

Preston Wolin made his case in front of the IHSA baseball advisory committee in August.

Wolin, the director of sports medicine at the Chicago Center for Orthopedics at Weiss Memorial Hospital, campaigned for the limit (the initial recommendation was a 115-pitch maximum).

Wolin also happens to be a pitching coach at Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Skokie. He felt the implementation went well.

“Everybody is trying to be very collegial about this, cooperate, be as up-front as they possibly can trying to figure out how all this works,” Wolin said.

Bob Gardner, the NFHS executive director, said it’s a work in progress.

“We have not had any real expressions of controversy over discrepancies in counting or anything like that,” Gardner said.

Gardner even mentioned that someday the NFHS could come up with a unified number for all states.

“It’s something that, over the course of time, we’ll eventually land on a number that seems to work for everybody,” Gardner said.

There have been few reports of violations in Illinois. What violations have surfaced tend to be instances of coaches accidentally using a pitcher a day earlier than allowed. Those have resulted in forfeits.

Most coaches already had their own limits in place. For many, it simply means adjusting to the IHSA’s numbers.

McHenry coach Brian Rockweiler has seen opponents pull a pitcher in the middle of an at-bat – something that almost never happened before – in order to preserve an extra day of rest.

Rockweiler said the rule has affected the way McHenry uses its bullpen. He plans out who’s going to throw in relief ahead of time.

“Some coaches are real strict making sure guys stay at a certain pitch count so they can pitch again the next day,” Rockweiler said. “We don’t do that. We save a reliever for each day so that way if we use a guy for more than 30 pitches, it doesn’t leave us in a bind for the next day.”

‘Why aren’t we all doing it?’

After committing to pitch in college at Xavier after his junior season, former Hampshire pitcher Trey Schramm sat down with Whip-Purs coach John Sarna.

Heading into his senior season, Schramm was Hampshire’s top pitcher and shortstop, and now his arm had a Division I career ahead of it.

Sarna had a recommendation.

“We came to the agreement that I would stop playing shortstop my senior year and I would move to first base and outfield just to preserve my arm a little bit,” said Schramm, now a sophomore at Xavier. “At first when it was brought up to me, I was a little skeptical.”

The day after pitching, Schramm played designated hitter. Two days after pitching, he could return to the field as a first baseman.

“Trey wasn’t really happy when I moved him,” Sarna said. “I sleep well at night knowing that we did what was in the best interest of the kid. I just wish more and more coaches did that.”

The new pitching rules don’t cover everything.

Sarna wishes there was mandatory education for coaches on how to handle young arms. Earlier this season he became upset when he watched an opposing team trot out the prior day’s pitcher as a third baseman.

Schramm logged 562/3 innings out of the bullpen as a freshman for Xavier and has thrown 30 innings this season. He has never dealt with arm problems. He credits his Hampshire coaches’ diligence with pitchers as the reason why he has transitioned so well to college, where he posted a 3.65 ERA as a freshman and helped the Muskateers reach the NCAA tournament.

“All the stretches (in high school), at the time I thought it was a little tedious,” Schramm said. “You’ve just got to know your body. If the arm’s not feeling good and you’re going out to shortstop, it’s putting unneeded stress on your arm.”

‘Everybody is a pitcher’

Sarna is in favor of protecting arms, he just doesn’t like that the IHSA is telling coaches what to do.

Sarna adopted another measure to combat the limits, one he thinks more teams will do next year.

The number of kids on his team can vary from year to year, but Sarna usually keeps about 20. This year, the Whip-Purs have 23.

“I did that specifically because of this rule,” Sarna said. “My philosophy is everybody is a pitcher, because you just don’t want to be in that position where you’re in violation of some number.”

Some pitchers are simply used for mop-up duty during a blowout.

McHenry kept the same number of pitchers it normally has. But Rockweiler said the Warriors have put more focus on developing pitchers at the lower levels.

“It’s only a good thing,” Rockweiler said. “It gives other kids a chance to play that sometimes might not have gotten an opportunity.”

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