High school baseball pitchers have been subject to pitch-count limits this season, but are the new rules changing the way the best teams use their top pitchers?

Not much, it seems.

A Portland Press Herald examination of nine teams from southern Maine that made the playoffs in both 2016 and 2017 shows that the top pitchers threw about 5 percent fewer innings this year than under the innings-based pitching rules in effect last season.

“I have personally not been affected by the (pitch-count) rule nor has the rule affected my opponents,” said Portland Coach Mike Rutherford.

“It hasn’t been a bigger deal for us for probably two reasons,” said Cheverus Coach Mac McKew. “One, because we’ve tracked pitches before and also the fact that we have good arms. That’s a luxury some other teams might not have.”

Until this year, a high school pitcher was limited by the number of innings pitched over several days. A pitcher who threw four or more innings in a game could not pitch until three calendar days elapsed.

The National Federation of State High School Associations required states to implement pitch counts for this season. Each state was allowed to set its own limits. Maine’s standards are: 0 to 20 pitches, no rest day required; 21-39 pitches, one rest day; 40-65 pitches, two rest days; 66-95 pitches, three rest days; 96-110 pitches, four rest days.

If a threshold is reached during an at-bat, the pitcher may complete that at-bat, then leave the mound without being docked an extra day. Similarly, when pitchers reach 110 pitches during an at-bat, they can finish facing that batter.

Driving the change was concern for player safety, particularly a rise in Tommy John surgeries performed on pitchers aged 15 to 19.

In 2015-16, High School RIO, a national injury surveillance study, reported that 33 percent of baseball injuries affected the arm or shoulder and pitching is the baseball activity most likely to cause injury.

“As of right now it’s too early for us to know the impact (of the pitch-count rule) from an injury standpoint,” said Bob Colgate the NFHS director of sports and sports medicine.

Based on the newspaper’s statistical comparison, the top two pitchers on each staff completed 64.3 percent of their teams’ total innings in the 2017 regular season, compared to 68.9 percent in 2016 (including 13 playoff games). The top three pitchers on each staff completed 79.3 percent of the innings this year compared to 84.6 percent in 2016.

South Portland had the most dramatic decrease in pitcher usage. It can be attributed, in part, to the 2016 graduation of Griffin Kelley, who appeared in 11 of 19 games with nine starts and threw 62 innings last year.

Cheverus is another team that has seen a reduction, largely because it has four quality starters. During the 2017 regular season, each made at least three starts and threw at least one complete game (Cheverus had 12 as a team). Still, seniors Jack Casale and Jared Brooks carried the load, combining to pitch 64.6 percent of the innings. Brooks pitched a one-hitter Thursday in a quarterfinal win over Deering.

In Casale’s case, the pitch-count rule may have had a positive “subconscious” impact, McKew said. Casale threw six more innings this year while throwing 50 fewer pitches.

Some pitchers were still able to make six or more starts this spring. Cam Guarino of Falmouth made eight starts during the regular season, with one relief appearance. He threw 491/3 innings. In 2016, Guarino made eight regular-season starts and threw 50 innings.

Ryan Twitchell of Greely made six regular-season starts this spring, totaling 38 innings – exactly the same as in 2016. Twitchell also pitched Thursday in a quarterfinal loss at Cape Elizabeth. Under the new rules, he required four days of rest after some starts because he went over 95 pitches.

“The biggest impact was that Ryan Twitchell was unable to close games on three days’ rest this year when I could have had him available by the old rules,” said Greely Coach Derek Soule. “He had two saves in 2016.”

Gorham standout Logan Drouin went 7-0 in seven regular-season starts this spring and made two relief appearances with a save. His 492/3 innings was an increase of 13 innings from 2016, when he started six games. Drouin also pitched six scoreless innings Thursday in a quarterfinal win over Sanford.

In 2016, Portland’s top two pitchers (Dan Marzilli and Charles Barnard) started 16 of 20 games (including the playoffs) and accounted for 77.8 percent of the team’s total innings pitched. This year, two Portland pitchers (Gio Ruotolo and Donnie Tocci) combined for 15 starts and threw 75 percent of the innings as Portland went 12-4 during the regular season to finish fourth in Class A South.

Rutherford thinks the pitch count could make more of an impact in the playoffs, particularly if there’s a strikeout pitcher on the mound.

“I haven’t gone into a game in the regular season with a strategy of getting a guy’s pitch count up,” he said. “We’ll definitely have a different strategy (in Saturday’s semifinal against top-seeded Falmouth) to try to get into their bullpen.”

The potential impact was apparent Wednesday in Scarborough’s 6-4 Class A preliminary victory against Windham.

Scarborough junior starter Morgan Pratt reached 107 pitches with one out in the seventh inning. Despite retiring seven straight batters, he was pulled with no one on base. Four Scarborough errors in the middle innings had contributed to raising Pratt’s pitch count. Sophomore Jack Clark came on to get the final outs, giving up a two-out walk.

“At that moment, Morgan was strong. All my instincts tell me he would have finished that game,” said Coach Mike D’Andrea. “But at the end of the day we’re all playing by the same rules, and we had a sophomore go in in a big situation and good for him, (he got) a save.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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