PORT ARTHUR — Pitch counts are here to stay. The days of Nolan Ryan or Bob Gibson throwing 160 pitches in a single game are long gone.
Starting about a decade ago, teams started worrying about how many pitches were being thrown by starters. Because of links to injuries, pitch counts are watched and regulated in Little League now. But, it doesn’t stop there. After his first start against Colorado, Houston Astros starter Bud Norris said during postgame interviews that his manager and pitching coach started worrying about him before he’d even gotten to 100 pitches.
All of that is why it was at least curious on the surface when Nederland head coach Cody Robbins said he wasn’t worried at all about his starter Brett Brown in Tuesday’s Mid-County Madness game. That means he wasn’t worried when Brown crossed 100 pitches or cruised all the way up to the 120-pitch mark where he ended the game.
“At this point in the season, I’m not really worried about him,” Robbins said. “He’s been conditioning well and he never looked like he was laboring. I’m very protective of my pitchers, and if I see them laboring, I get them out of there quickly.”
That last part is what puts Robbins at the front of what we know about pitcher injuries and pitch counts. As more studies are done on pitching injuries, the accepted theory is it’s not the actual number of pitches, but how many pitches he threw under duress.
Those could come at any time in a game, but what Robbins referred to as “laboring” is exactly what can lead to problems. For young pitchers, the risk of injury rises when they aren’t able to maintain proper mechanics or when they try and overthrow. Both of those things can happen easily if a pitcher gets tired.