Panel discusses how to limit arm injuries in baseball players

A group met at the CHSAA office on Wednesday to discuss the epidemic of arm injuries in baseball. (Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

A group met at the CHSAA office on Wednesday to discuss the epidemic of arm injuries in baseball. (Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

AURORA — A panel of coaches, administrators, trainers and doctors met at the CHSAA office on Wednesday evening in search of a solution to the influx of arm injuries which have plagued youth baseball recently.

"Whether it's Colorado, whether it's Arizona, or whether it's Alaska, it's all the same story: it's all about arm injuries," said CHSAA assistant commissioner Bert Borgmann, who oversees baseball and headed the meeting. "And, these injuries are more than just the UCL (elbow), but include other arm injuries."

The group met for an hour and a half, with the goal of setting the groundwork to change the pitching rule in Colorado high school baseball.

Currently, players may not pitch more than 12 innings in three consecutive days. That applies in the regular season and the playoffs. Partial innings are rounded up to whole innings. A pitcher may not appear in more than 70 innings during the regular season. There is no innings limit in the postseason.

The consensus among the gathered was that on top of a rule change is a need for more education among parents and players.

Quickly, though, it became clear that any solution can't just come from the high school ranks. The sport will need buy-in from outside-school club coaches who deal with athletes during the summer, fall and winter baseball seasons.

"No matter what we do in any of our efforts, how we try to control our corner of the world, so-to-speak," said Fossil Ridge coach Mark Findley, "we've got to have both sides in the room."

"There has to be co-existence," added Mark Knudson, who pitched in the Major Leagues for 12 years and now writes for Mile High Sports. "The club coaches have to be on board, too. There's got to be communication."

Said Cotopaxi coach Ryan Christensen: "This is baseball. This isn't high school versus club. This is about the kids. How do we get them all on the same page?"

Because even if CHSAA were to implement any range of the ideas batted around Wednesday — including stricter innings and pitch-count limits, an inability to re-enter the game at a different position after pitching — it won't make a difference if the athletes aren't following similar standards during their club seasons.

"If we're the smallest season (at 19 games), and we're the only one that's going to monitor these kids' arms ... that's a 19-game window and the reality is we're talking about (a whole year)," said Fairview coach Rick Harig.

So what to do? Many coaches in the room were in favor of extending the high school season — possibly to as long as 40 games — which would allow them to monitor their players for longer.

Everyone on the panel agreed that one of the biggest contributing factors to arm injuries was the fact that these athletes are playing baseball — and pitching — year-round. They would like to see kids playing multiple sports.

"Scouts nowadays are talking about kids who play three sports," Knudson said.

A longer season would also allow for a more relaxed pace, and more development.

"As far as the spring is concerned, we get 19 games, and every one of the is like Game 7 of the World Series," said Findley, who later added, "More games sounds like, 'Well more games means more pitching.' No, it means we have to develop more pitchers."

Other ideas discussed at Wednesday's meeting:

• Have an outreach at the coaches' clinic to educate them on arm injuries.

• Extending the current season-long innings limitation to the postseason, as well.

• Lowering the 12-inning limit over three days to be more strict.

"If (the 12-inning limit) is going on an on-going thing, that's way too much. That's abuse," Harig said.

• Changing the culture of the sport to where athletes aren't only seeking treatment after the injury has done devastating damage.

"A lot of times, baseball athletes don't come in until it's too late, until that last game or that last state tournament," said Dr. Aaron Provance, who works at Children's Hospital Colorado and is on CHSAA's sports medicine committee.

• A rule where catchers can't pitch, and pitchers can't catch, in the same game. This is especially relevant in smaller schools.

"If we play a double-header, very often the pitcher pitches the first game, and (the pitcher and catcher) switch the second one," Christensen said.

• Simply changing positions during club seasons, where pitchers play first base or outfield. Or if an athlete pitches in the spring and summer seasons, they don't pitch in the fall.

"More throwing and less pitching," Knudson said.

Eventually, the group would like to forward a recommendation on to the baseball committee for consideration. There is a lot of work to be done before that step, though.

"I think this will be an interesting debate, an interesting topic, as we go through it," said Robert Framel, athletic directer at Palmer who chairs CHSAA's baseball committee.

The group will met again in mid-September. On the agenda, according to Borgmann, will be invitations to private coaches, as well as a presentation on the statistics surrounding arm injuries.