In recent years, there has been a distressing increase in the amount of injuries sustained by pitchers competing at the Little league level. Some of these injuries can be so serious that players can lose weeks or the entire season recuperating from the injury. Often, medical treatment will be necessary and often includes surgery.
In 2007, in an attempt to reduce the frequency of pitcher injuries, the Little League organization implemented new rules that set a maximum threshold for the amount of pitches that can be thrown by a pitcher in each game, and mandatory rest period between games.
Little League strives to protect baseball players as much as possible while maintaining the high level of competitiveness for which the league is known. Effective spring 2010, the organization established form pitch count rules based on the age of the players.
The chart below indicates the age of the player and the corresponding maximum pitch count for each age range. As of 2019, these thresholds remain in effect.
Maximum Pitch Counts for Little League
Pitcher Age Maximum Pitches
7-8 Years 50
9-10 Years 75
11-12 Years 85
13-16 Years 95
17-18 Years 105
In 2010, the league had lumped all players under 10 into one uniform throwing limit, but changed it in 2017, making the pitch limits even more age-specific. Now, children who pitch aged 8 and below are allowed a maximum of only 50 pitches per game, reduced by 25 pitches per game from the previous maximum.
New Rule Enforcement
The age-specific pitch count limits outlined above are enforced beyond the coach keeping count of the number of pitches thrown. Little League has imposed new requirements for each league.
Within each league, there must be an outside scorekeeper. The scorekeeper will track pitch counts and acts as the official scorer for each game. The scorekeeper also acts as the official pitch count recorder.
The official scorekeeper will provide the pitch count to the manager or the umpire whenever requested. They will also notify the umpire-in-chief as soon as the pitcher has reached his maximum pitch count.
At that point, the umpire-in-chief will notify the manager, who must remove the pitcher at that moment (if the pitcher is in the middle of a count with a batter, the pitcher can continue until the at bat is over).
However, the manager is still responsible to keep track of the pitch counts independently either by consulting the official scorekeeper or keeping track of the pitch count on his own. He is not relieved of responsibility of removing the pitcher when he has reached the maximum number of throws. He cannot rely on the umpire in chief to notify him, the manager must be aware at all times and will be held responsible if the pitcher goes over his maximum pitch count limit.
Should the manager allow his player to remain in the game beyond his pitch count limit, the game can be held under protest. Even if the team who violated the limit wins the game, they may forfeit the way because the pitcher went over his maximum number of throws. In addition, no player may be allowed to pitch in more than a single game in any given day.
Mandated Rules for Periods of Rest Between Pitch Outings
The major change to have occurred with the new rules is that the rest period between games has increased. After consultation with physicians and sports health professionals, it was found that incidences of arm, elbow and shoulder injury was still on the rise. Accordingly, Little League began to impose longer rest periods between games.
The longer rest periods are mandated regardless of age. The new rules apply to pitchers up to the age of 18. The older rules were more lenient to pitchers age 17 to 18, but due to the consistency of injuries occurring, the new rules encompass all ages of little league play.
There is a change in the rules for little league pitchers aged 14 and under, and from ages 15 to 18. Specifically. The new rules state these pitchers must have a fourth day of rest, up one day from the previous three days’ rest.
The following show the newly instituted rules for rest periods. Note the rest periods are based on the number of pitches thrown, even if the maximum number of pitches established in the new rules were not thrown.
Age 7 to 8
Maximum 50 Pitches
- don’t require rest if their pitch count is under 20.
- If the pitch count is between 21-35, one day of rest is mandated.
- For a pitch count between 36 and 50, they must have 2 days’ rest.
Age 9 to 10
Maximum 75 Pitches
- No rest required if pitch count is under 20
- 1 day rest required when range is between 21 to 35 pitches
- 2 days’ rest when pitch range is between 36 and 50 pitches
- 3 days required when pitch count is between 51 to 65 pitches
- If the pitch count is 66 or more, then 4 days rest is mandated.
Ages 11 to 12
85 Pitch Maximum
- No rest required when pitch count is less than 20
- 1 day of rest when 21 to 35 pitches are thrown
- 2 days when between 36 and 50
- 3 days when 51 to 65 pitches thrown
- 4 days when pitch count is 66 or more
Ages 13 to 14
95 Pitch Maximum
- No rest required 20 pitches and under
- 1 day 21-35
- 2 days 36-50
- 3 days 51-65
- 4 days 66 pitches thrown and higher
Ages 15 to 16
95 Pitch Maximum
Note that although the pitch count for 15 to 16 year olds is identical to the pitch count maximum for 13-14 year olds. This higher age range allows for more pitches to be made within each rest period.
- Between 1 and 30 pitches, no rest period required. Following this, the pitch count is higher within each rest period as can be seen below.
- 31-45 pitches requires 1 day of rest
- 46-60 pitches thrown requires 2 days rest
- 61-75 thrown requires 3 days rest
- 76 pitches and higher requires 4 days rest between outings.
Ages 17 – 18
105 Pitch Maximum
Note that the rest periods required for maximum pitch counts are identical to those of the range for 15 to 16 year olds above. The only difference is that this age range is allowed 105 pitches maximum, not 95 as 15-16 year olds are held to.
Additional New Rules
In tandem with the new pitch count maximums, a pitcher who has thrown more than 41 pitches in a game may not go behind the plate to assume catching duties in the same game and for the remainder of the day.
Players over the age of 12 are no longer eligible to play in Little League Minor League Division. Accordingly, pitcher s over age 12 may not pitch in any minor division games.
Pitchers are forbidden from pitching in more than one game in any given day, even if his pitch count is lower than the maximum allowed.
If a game is suspended due to rain or other factors, the pitcher can resume pitching in the makeup game on another day, as long as he did not exceed the pitch count maximum in the previous game.
If the pitcher reaches his maximum pitch count while facing a batter who he has started throwing to, he is allowed to finish pitching to that batter, but must be removed as soon as the at bat is finished.
The types of injuries that afflict little league pitchers fall into five main categories. Doctors and Sports Medicine professionals are well-versed in these injuries, seeing them over and over again. As a result, treatment has improved dramatically as a result of research into treatment of these common conditions.
These injuries, although common, can be prevented when pitchers do the proper preventive exercises to keep the affected areas in the best possible condition.
Labral tears occur in the shoulders. A ring around the joint, called fibrocartilage, surrounds the socket. The shoulder area becomes loose when there is a tear in the cartilage making the entire area of the joint unstable.
The first sign that a pitcher has suffered a labral tear is his loss of control of his throws. Because the tear loosens the joint, pitchers have no strength in the area because the cartilage has caused a separation.
Muscle Strain of the Oblique
The oblique muscles are located on the sides of the lower abdomen. Pitchers use these muscles with every pitch. The oblique muscles help pitchers control the direction of their throw.
Pitchers rotate their bodies to a sharp angle, stretching the obliques and pulling down the chest muscles. Over time and after too many repetitions of the movement, the pitcher can pull these muscles severely enough to take him out of the game and the pitching rotation until the muscles heal.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
Within the shoulder is a group of four muscles. These muscles work together and control the movement of the shoulder. These muscles are affected by the overhead throw pitchers make.
Repetition of this overhead throwing causes the tendons that hold the muscles in place to compress. After too many repetitions of the same movement, pain will begin to emanate from this complex of tendons and muscles.
Everyone who follows baseball has heard of Major League pitchers going on the disabled list
with rotator cuff injuries. If a player is not regulated with a maximum pitch count, he will suffer from a rotator cuff injury which, if not treated will lead to a condition called tendonitis. When this occurs, pitchers need to recuperate for a minimum of three weeks and for as long as four months.
UCL Elbow Sprain
The UCL, or “ulnar collateral ligament,” is located in the elbow joint, on the inside. This ligament provides stability in the throwing arm.
Often referred to as “Little League Elbow,” the condition has become so common that the American Medical Association now uses this wording when diagnosing Little League Elbow. They are extremely common and are suffered as a result of too much repetition of the throwing motion in the arm. When a pitcher experiences Little League Elbow, he feels pain on the inside of his arm at the elbow and soon loses control of his throwing accuracy.
GIRD (Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit)
GIRD, in medical terms, translates to “loss of internal rotation of the shoulder while positioned in 90 degrees of abduction.” Simply put, this injury occurs as the result of the overhead pitching motion and the movement of the arm down the side of the body. From the windup to the final release of the baseball, the arm moves approximately 90 degrees. Along the way, a set of side muscles are involved in the throw. Repetition of the same movement too many times makes it impossible for the movement to extend to 90 degrees.
As a result, the pitcher is unable to throw with force, and he loses control of his pitches. Unfortunately, GIRD requires a long period of convalescence, and often results in pitchers missing out on the rest of the baseball season.
Tips for Little League Pitchers to Prevent Throwing Injuries
Your Practice Regimen and Drills
It’s rare to find advice in pitching drill articles online of how to take care of the arm and the body to prevent injury. The focus is on improvement but there are usually no warnings about injury or how to prevent getting injured, especially from things like little league elbow.
The simplest advice to give is for pitchers to limit the use of their arm. Most important, work up to a more intensive workout. The body gains strength and flexibility slowly, but if practice time increases in stages, the body will usually adapt, and endurance is increased.
Some commonsense advice is not to pitch on consecutive days, to take a break after baseball season by avoiding pitching year round and reach out to coaches for advice.
Don’t Pitch on Consecutive Days
The shoulder and its tendons are stretched and compressed beyond their natural range of 180 degrees. To compensate for this, rest time is critical, because the time not over-reaching allows the tendons, muscles and joints to recover.
Don’t Pitch Year Round
Players need to be told that their bodies are still growing, and it’s important not to impede on the maturation process. There’s nothing wrong about engaging in another sport in the off season, as long as it doesn’t involve arm extensions. Soccer is a great idea, even basketball. But overhead throwing should be avoided.
Talk to the Coach
Trying to be a team player and not informing the coach that pain is felt is a grave mistake made by pitchers. Coaches need to inform players that the moment they are feeling any arm pain, that the coach needs to know. The alternative could be going out of the pitching rotation or not playing the rest of the season. Little League is attempting to significantly reduce arm injuries for the sake of the player and the league. Coaches need to step up and always ask the pitcher how he feels, or if he’s in any pain throughout the game in which the pitcher plays.
Exercises to Strengthen the Arms, Shoulders and Obliques
The best exercises to protect pitchers from injury involve stretching the muscles of the pitching arm and holding it in a stretched position before releasing it back to its compressed state.
One of the more popular exercise for pitchers is called the sleeper stretch. To do this, the player lies on the ground, then rolls over and places all of his weight on his throwing arm. Once all the weight is pressed, he pulls up his knees, assuming a fetal position.
There is information available for variations of the sleeper stretch exercise online.
Another popular exercise is one that helps strengthen the rotator cuff in the shoulder. The exercise helps strengthen the front part of the shoulders.
The exercise is recommended particularly if the pitcher is experiencing limited overhead throwing capabilities. The exercise, which stretches and relaxes the rotator cuff area of the shoulder, can help extend his range again.
Stand in a doorway and raise your arms up to 90 degrees with your arms against each side of the door frame. Stand with your right foot forward and your left foot back. Now, lean your weight forward until you feel a stretch in your chest and at the front of your shoulders.
Another helpful exercise is called the Arm Swing Exercise. Arm swings are a dynamic stretching exercise that engages the muscles in the upper body. This is a great warm up exercise that stretches the shoulders, arms, chest and upper back. It also prepares the muscles, tendons and joints for a workout. This exercise also gives you a great cardio boost and increases flexibility.
Stand up straight with your knees bent slightly, your feet shoulder width apart and your arms stretched horizontally to the sides. Cross your arms at the front and quickly bring them back as far as you can. Repeat this back and forth movement for about one minute.
Keep your abdominal muscles tight and your back straight. Face forward, breathe slowly and use your muscles to propel your movement. Your arms should swing in a steady, fluid motion and as wide as their full range of motion can go.