Natchez Dixie Youth limits use of budding pitchers’ arms

Published 12:17 am Monday, June 7, 2010

NATCHEZ — In the mind of Natchez Dixie Youth officials, a short-term gain for a young pitcher shouldn’t put their long-term health at risk.

That’s why, when it comes to protecting a pitcher’s arm, the league errs on the side of caution.

Natchez Dixie Youth limits children to throwing only six innings per week. A pitcher must also rest at least 36 hours if he goes three innings or more in a game before he can pitch again. Allen Dossett, pitching coach for B&K Bank, said these rules allow a young pitcher’s arm to grow without too much risk.

“At their age, a lot of growth plates have not matured and filled out. We try to limit their pitching because of that,” Dossett said.

And after three innings of work, young pitchers generally start to get tired anyway, said El Toro head coach David Lindsey.

“I’ve noticed after they pitch three innings, they’re getting tired, and they’ll tell you that. You can also tell they are because they’ll start walking batters,” Lindsey said.

When tournament play starts, the rules change. A child can pitch only 13 innings an entire tournament, and if he exceeds three innings pitched in one game, he cannot pitch in consecutive games. League commissioner Porky Smith said those rules include games that are postponed by rain.

“If a kid pitches three innings on Monday, he cannot pitch in the team’s next game, even if the games are rained out Tuesday and Wednesday and they don’t play again until Thursday,” Smith said.

“This rule keeps coaches from pitching their best kids three innings apiece each game and winning the tournament that way.”

In addition, if a pitcher pitches into the fourth inning of a game, that pitcher must also abide by the 36-hour rule as well as the consecutive days rule, Smith said.

Neil Brown, who’s on the league’ board of directors, said the innings limitations do a good job protecting the arms of its young pitchers.

“This is why Dixie Youth hasn’t gone to a pitch count rule, because these rules take care of the kids pretty well. That’s not to say we won’t ever (adopt a pitch count limit), but that’s why we haven’t right now,” Brown said.

Another way to protect a young pitcher’s arm is to wait until he’s at least a teenager before letting him throw a curve ball, Smith said.

“There’s no rule in Dixie Youth that you can’t throw a curve ball, but I think there ought to be a parent rule when you can’t throw a curve at a young age,” Smith said.

Even so, Smith said he’s not in favor of changing the league’s rules to prevent children from throwing a breaking pitch.

“Some guys can teach them how to throw a breaking pitch without it affecting their elbow,” he said.

“Personally, I’d like to see them teach these kids how to throw a major league changeup. It’s a safer pitch, because you go through the same arm motions as a fastball, but you just don’t throw it as fast.”

Ryan Comer, head coach for Smith Printing, said he prefers his players to learn how to use the changeup.

“For right now, with the 9- and 10-year-olds I coach, it’s better for their arm,” Comer said.

“With a curveball, you twist your elbow when you throw it. With the change, I teach them to use three fingers, which makes it still look like a fastball when it’s thrown, but it slows the speed down.”

It’s also important for a pitcher to let his coach know when his arm is hurting. B&K Bank head coach Gary Farmer said that’s something he stresses to his pitchers when the season begins.

“As coaches, we tell them starting early in the year, if at any time their arm is sore or hurting, they need to tell us,” Farmer said.

“That could not only affect them for the rest of the season, but for the rest of their lives. We tell them we won’t be mad at them if their arm is hurting, but they do need to let us know.”

Building up arm strength is also something that helps keep a child from hurting their arm, Dossett said.

“We have our pitchers throw 30- to 40-pitch bullpen sessions, which gets them acclimated to hitting their spots and building up arm strength,” Dossett said.

And getting a child to do that on his own is a lost art, Lindsey said.

“Kids aren’t getting outside like they used to. I could play ball all summer long (when I was young), but nowadays kids are sitting inside playing Xbox. It allowed me to build up my arm strength much more compared to kids now,” Lindsey said.