Prior to the start of the spring season last year, the Virginia High School League implemented a new rule that placed stricter limitations on the number of innings that high school pitchers could throw in a given time period.
Under that rule -- which remains in effect this season -- pitchers can throw no more than nine innings in a single game and cannot pitch more than 14 innings in a seven-day period.
The rule also lays out how many days pitchers are required to rest after pitching a certain number of innings. Two or three innings pitched requires a day of rest, and tossing four to seven innings in a given outing requires two days of rest, after which the pitcher can throw a maximum of two innings (that same pitcher can throw three innings on three days rest and the maximum number after four days). The restrictions for throwing eight or nine innings in a game are similar to if a pitcher threw four to seven innings, although the resting period is increased by one day. (For example, three days of rest are required to throw two innings, and so on.)
The limitation was put in place with the safety of players in mind, although, interestingly enough, the rule does not take into consideration the number of pitches a player has thrown.
Longtime Strasburg baseball coach Jeff Smoot, who served on the VHSL Baseball Pitching Policy Committee that drew up the new limitations, said the rule change drew some opposition, mainly in the form of coaches who felt their pitching staffs would be stretched thin because of the rule. Smoot said the committee's response was simple enough -- develop more pitching.
"It will reward teams that have a little more depth in their pitching staff, and I don't think that's a bad thing," Smoot said on Wednesday.
The newly implemented rule seemed to go over well enough in the area last season -- if local coaches were struggling to find capable arms on a game-by-game basis, they weren't making much of a fuss about it.
But this season could bring even bigger stress to teams' pitching staffs. Most schools are already falling behind in their spring schedules due to the weather, and some local baseball teams have already had as many as four or five games postponed in the first two weeks of the season.
Many of those games -- specifically the ones against district opponents -- need to be made up at some point this season, which will put teams in situations where they are playing three and even possibly four games in a week consistently if the weather continues to wreak havoc with schedules. That means most teams will be dipping into their sixth, seventh and eighth pitchers during some games, if they even carry that many.
But coaches are not panicking just yet.
Smoot said he is confident that Strasburg has enough pitching experience for the Rams to trot out a reliable arm no matter how deep they have to dig into their arsenal, and Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said the Wildcats have the "most depth we've had since I've been here, pitching-wise."
Skyline coach Jay Barnes and Stonewall Jackson coach Mike Lenox also said they have plenty of arms on their respective pitching staffs to ride out the grueling schedule that is sure to come.
Sherando coach Pepper Martin said the Warriors -- despite having some uncertainty behind their top three starting pitchers -- have always found ways to successfully use a lot of different arms even before the new innings limitation was put in place, and Central head coach Donn Foltz said the Falcons are doing "the best we can," but that the situation will now require "more thinking" and a little bit of luck.
Teams haven't seen much of that luck so far in regards to the weather, and it will be interesting to see how teams cope if the scheduling situation starts to get any worse. Central has already been forced to cancel its four-team baseball tournament that was scheduled for today due to the concern of some teams playing five games in a week, and other local teams may have to abandon future make-up games for the same reasons.
Local baseball teams have eight weeks remaining in the regular season before conference tournaments are to be held during the last week of May, and more postponements during that span are almost certainly a guarantee. The "lucky" teams have gotten to play two baseball games in the first two weeks, which means there is plenty of baseball to be played over the next three months.
I guess coaches will find out soon if their pitching staffs are truly as deep as they think they are.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org