Bobcat baseball turns to fresh arms

Those two little words are on everyone’s mind as the baseball season appears over the horizon: Pitch count.

The Iowa High School Athletic Association has implemented a new policy for the 2017 season, restricting the number of pitches a pitcher may throw in a game, depending on how much rest he has. Sophomores, juniors and seniors may throw 91-110 pitches on four days’ rest, 66-90 on three days’, 41-65 on two days’, 26-40 on one day’s and 1-25 on no rest.

The new policy is in an effort of keep young high school athletes’ arms healthier. In the more recent years, ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, or ‘Tommy John surgery’ has become more and more common among younger pitchers.

The new restriction is going to affect every team in the state, among all classes, differently. Marshalltown baseball head coach Steve Hanson said there are pros and cons to the new implementation.

“In theory, keeping track of pitches for kids is a very commendable thing to do,” Hanson said. “It’s all safety-based. There’s been a huge increase in ulnar collateral ligament, Tommy John surgeries as of late. They get younger and younger and younger, and this is the National Federation [of State High School Associations]’s way to say, ‘OK, general consensus is those injuries are provoked by overuse.”

But the overarching policy could do some unintentional harm when trying to save young pitchers’ arms.

“It’s an umbrella measure that I’m not certain all human beings fall under the same umbrella,” Hanson said. “In many ways, 110 pitches in a night is way too many for some guys. In other cases, more mature guys, a senior who is graduated, is athletic and so on, 110 is not that big of deal. So, we’ve used this blanket coverage that will include some people it shouldn’t, and exclude some people it shouldn’t.”

Hanson admitted to not having the perfect science on how to better police pitches and young pitchers’ arms. But it could be the first step in a direction to save health for players down the road.

As for Marshalltown, Hanson said he didn’t believe the new policy will alter the Bobcats nightly routine all that drastically.

“It will be an extreme change for a good portion of the schools in the state of Iowa,” Hanson said. “I don’t know that it will impact us that terribly, simply because we already kept track of things like that already.”

Marshalltown will tout returning junior pitcher Nate Vance, who led the Bobcats to a 21-20 record a year ago. Vance was 6-2 in his 11 starts, and made three more appearances in 2016. He pitched 69 1/3 innings with an earned run average (ERA) of 2.12 — the lowest on the team (minimum five starts).

Batters hit .286 off Vance as he struck out 37 batters and walked 17. Marshalltown graduated seniors Jack Greene and Cole Keeler, who were the second and third-ranked pitchers, in terms of starts and experience behind Vance.

Greene took 10 starts and a 3-6 record, with a team-high 45 strikeouts with him, along with a team-low .197 opposition batting average. Keeler was 6-3 in his seven starts and six other appearances, striking out 23 and holding a 4.00 ERA.

Hanson said they’ll look at a handful of fresh arms to find time on the mound this season. With the new pitch count policy, it does for the Bobcats’ hand to find some other arms for innings they might not have needed to search for a year ago.

“[Kody] Ricken is one of those guys, he’s bigger, stronger version of himself from a year ago,” Hanson said. “He’s pretty good; he’s capable. Sam Irwin played a year ago in the last half of the season, and is a good player. Dylan Eygabroad will play shortstop. He has really good hands and is a really capable shortstop.”

Ricken led the Bobcats in offense with .354 batting average, .575 slugging and .430 on-base percentage. His slugging and batting average led the team. Miguel Torrez will also see significant time as a senior, as he started just one game but saw time in six different appearances. He pitched 10 2/3 innings with four strikeouts and a .260 opposing batting average.

Hanson said only time will tell to see how this year’s core group, along with supporting members will do with the gameplan.

“Your hope is the guys who were the young guys getting experience, are not young anymore,” Hanson said. “And that those guys can pick up the slack left behind by a large senior class and guys who were very competitive players.”

Marshalltown starts at home tomorrow night with a game against Newton at 7 p.m., followed by a doubleheader at home with Waterloo East on Thursday night at 5 p.m.