Little League begins to limit pitch counts to protect young arms

Monday, August 14, 2006

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- E.J. Strehlow is a Little League pitcher with a big-league injury.

The 12-year-old Strehlow tore a ligament in his right elbow last year, a condition that his father Ernie Strehlow said occurred from throwing too much at a young age.

"It caught up with him. A young arm," said the elder Strehlow, a Little League administrator from Orangevale, Calif.

Before he was hurt, E.J. was throwing about six innings a week. He didn't need surgery, but a doctor ordered him to stay off the mound for three months.

Sports medicine research-ers say such injuries to youngsters are becoming more common as enthusiastic kids throw more innings on more teams, are mismanaged by coaches or aren't properly monitored by parents. Hoping to reduce wear and tear, Little League Baseball tested a new pitch count rule used voluntarily by about 500 of the 6,400 leagues in the United States.

The rule won't be in place for the Little League World Series, which starts Friday. But it appears it will be permanently in the books in the near future and possibly by next year's series.

Any change must be approved by Little League's board.

The Little League pitch count limits increase according to the player's age, with kids 10 and under limited to 75 pitches per day and teens 17 to 18 held to 105 pitches. There are also rest rules that also vary by age; pitchers 7-to-16, for instance, must spend four days off the mound after throwing 61 pitches.

This year's test expanded on a study in 25 leagues in 2005.

"I don't think it's a well-kept secret," Little League president Stephen Keener said, referring to the organization's increased focus on pitch counts. "We are doing this to test the effectiveness of something like this in the future."

Tim Fern, a league administrator from Brooklyn Center, Minn., gave his approval.

"For safety purposes, Little League might be going up the right alley," Fern said.

Strehlow said his son is fine now. His league switched to a pitch count system, and his son was more rested in postseason play.

While the rule was mainly well-received by managers, Strehlow said a few managers at times stretched pitchers to the 85 limit.

"The consequence was, the team in the running tended to ride their pitchers more than the normal system," he said.

The World Series in South Williamsport, which features mostly 11- and 12-year-olds, will stick with the official system of limiting pitchers according to innings. The main rule: A pitcher cannot throw more than six innings an outing, the length of a regulation game.

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