Like any plan, this one isn't perfect. Even those who worked tirelessly for its passage would acknowledge that.
Yet the Virginia High School League's new baseball pitching regulations, which go into effect with Tuesday's season openers, are being viewed as a necessary upgrade from the previous guidelines. Which, if manipulated by careless coaches and parents, would allow a teenager to pitch 30 innings over a six-day period.
The rising costs of overuse to a young pitcher's arm have been well documented. Noted surgeon James Andrews recently told ESPN.com that he performs three or four elbow reconstruction surgeries a week on high school athletes.
More and more stats are acting.
"We used baseball people and sports medicine people to come up with something together," said VHSL co-director of athletics Tom Dolan, whose duties include interpreting rules for baseball. "It was a safety issue, and we had to do something for the safety of the athlete."
The VHSL's new rule, which was approved in December by the executive committee, limits a pitcher to nine innings in one day and 14 in a seven-day period. An inning is defined as at least one pitch thrown.
Among the other stipulations:
•If a pitcher throws two or three innings in one day, he must have one calendar day of rest before pitching again.
•If a pitcher throws one inning for four consecutive days, he must have one calendar day of rest before pitching again.
•If a pitcher throws four to seven innings in one day, he must have at least two calendar days of rest, at which point he can throw a maximum of two innings.
Failure to comply can result in forfeiting a game and a $100 fine to the school.
As for enforcement, that has been left up to the districts (soon to be conferences). In the Peninsula District, the opposing coaches will meet on the field after every game to compare scorebooks. The numbers will then be reported to Kecoughtan athletic director Lee Martin, who oversees baseball in the PD.
In the Bay Rivers District, the coaches will police themselves.
"We're professionals," Warhill coach Joe Henzel said. "And we're expected to fulfill the mandate in accordance with VHSL rules."
York coach Rusty Ingram, who was on the committee that drafted the rule, believes this to be common sense.
"You don't see Major League pitchers pitching on two days rest because they have four- or five-man rotations," he said. "Some coaches are a little leery about learning to develop pitchers if they haven't pitched before, but it's something they're going to have to learn to stay competitive."
Denbigh coach Chris Ochsenfeld, who pitched at Bethel and had a five-year career in the minor leagues, is all for preserving arms.
"I understand what it feels like to pitch, and I know what it does to an arm," he said. "I remember high school coaches doing everything to dog out pitchers. Personally, I try to work as many pitchers in as possible."
Until now, the VHSL rule was nearly worthless. Pitchers were limited to 10 innings in consecutive days. There was no mention of a rest period or a weekly total of innings.
"With that rule in place, a kid literally could pitch five innings every day of the week except Sunday," Dolan said. "And that's only because we don't allow play on Sunday."
The VHSL's plan was modeled after Pennsylvania's, which also limits pitchers to 14 innings in seven days. But Pennsylvania's rule is worded "in any calendar week," meaning from Sunday to Saturday. Virginia's is defined as "any seven-day consecutive period," which can mean from Wednesday to Tuesday.
Some coaches believe the limit should be set by a pitch count instead of innings. That seems more logical, given that some pitchers can get three outs on 12 pitches while others might require 30 or more. But the VHSL concluded a pitch count would be too tricky to monitor.
"If there's a dispute, is it the home book that's always right?" Dolan said. "Some said, 'Let the parents keep pitches in the stands.' The unintentional consequences of some of that stuff just didn't really sit well with us. And with the media that will be there, (innings are) much easier to track."
Still, the VHSL is encouraging coaches to pay close attention to the pitch count. Between 90 and 105 is recommended as the limit for ages 16 through 18.
The VHSL also is stressing mechanics and conditioning. Ingram believes rehab work between pitching appearances is just as important. On their rest days, Ingram's pitchers throw from a flat surface because it "allows full range of motion and builds arm strength."
Hampton coach Danny Mitchell isn't against the new rule, but he believes the VHSL should have waited to implement it.
"It's like the district realignment, they felt the need to push it through now," he said. "I know they say this will lead to the development of pitchers, but that's why I say they should have put it in two years from now and given the coaches a chance to develop pitchers. They made the change right after fall baseball."
One flaw, according to many coaches, is how things are defined. For instance, pitching four innings in a game is treated the same, in terms of required rest in between appearances, as pitching seven innings.
"In years past, if you played on Tuesday and again on Friday and Saturday, you could pull your starter after four innings with a low pitch count and start him on Saturday," Warwick coach Todd Barker said. "With this new rule, you can't do that."
Technically, a pitcher could start on Saturday under that scenario. But he would be limited to three innings.
So how will the new rule affect high school baseball this spring? A team like Menchville, which always seems to have a stable of pitchers, should have little trouble adjusting. The Monarchs' No. 1 pitcher last season, Garrett Chrismon, averaged 4 2/3 innings per game.
"We usually start out with (the starter) going three innings, and whatever happens after that happens," Monarchs coach Phil Forbes said. "We try to go at least two pitchers every game and save their arms for their futures in life."
Coaches who have relied on two or three pitchers in the past will be forced to adjust their thinking.
"At bare minimum, you'll have to have three," Ochsenfeld said. "And when you play three games in a week, you're going to have to use probably five or six pitchers."
Saving arms was the crux behind the rule, and regardless of any imperfection, it's a step in the right direction.. But Dolan stresses this isn't necessarily the final product.
"Do I think this will be the absolute rule in five years? Probably not," he said. "It'll be tweaked down the road and there will be other things that come up that we haven't thought of."
Staff writer Marty O'Brien contributed to this reportCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun