Mason Booker of Lisbon hurls a pitch during Monday’s game at home against Brunswick. Eli Canfield/The Times Record

Lisbon pitcher Mason Booker was rolling through five innings of a recent game against Brunswick. After allowing two of the first three Dragon hitters to reach base in the sixth, he looked toward the third base dugout to see head coach Randy Ridley strutting out and clapping his hands. And just like that, Booker knew his day on the bump was over.

Booker had thrown 93 pitches — just two under the threshold that would keep him off the mound for three days instead of four.

The Maine Principals’ Association limits pitchers with no days of rest to 20 pitches, one day to 40, two days to 65, three days to 95 and four or more to 110.

As the playoffs arrive, baseball teams around the state have turned the page from regular seasons in which they had to navigate unusual circumstances with their pitching staffs. They had to go easy on pitch counts. Or they had to expand the amount of pitchers they used. Or they had to deal with quarantines or shutdowns that threw the operation out of order.

“It’s been an adjustment, it’s something that was in the back of your mind that has made its way toward the front,” said Ridley after his team beat Brunswick on May 24. 

Added Booker: “I know it’s been tougher on Coach (Ridley) to make his decisions. We know there’s always a method behind his decisions, and whether he’s being cautious with the lingering threat of COVID or just wanting to save our arms for a later game, we support his decisions.”

Other Midcoast coaches have faced challenges in navigating their pitching staffs.

“We’ve completely changed our strategy for the most part,” said Morse coach Niko Ruiz. “We want to get the most out of each pitcher per outing while also looking ahead. The schedule gives us help with the weekends off, but the middle and end can be hectic if we run out of arms. It happened earlier in the year when we were down a few guys, but it’s worked out OK since.”

Players have taken the new approach in stride, Ruiz said.

“The new approach definitely keeps you on your toes, knowing that anything can change at any given moment,” said Morse pitcher Gavin Baillargeon. “You just have to always be ready for anything.”

In Brunswick, the Dragons’ depth on the mound has been crucial this season. 

“We feel confident in five or six different guys to go out there and be successful on the mound,” said Brunswick ace Adam Nussbaum. 

Though Brunswick lost a couple pitchers earlier in the season due to COVID-19 safety protocols, Nussbaum said the team was “extremely lucky” with how those two weeks worked out. 

“We just had more guys pitch more innings and we had a schedule that was quite lucky as we did not have issues finding pitchers,” said the Brunswick senior. “Coach (Craig Rogers) hasn’t really changed his approach when we’ve been healthy, but you could notice a change when we were shorthanded.”

Mt. Ararat coach Brett Chase said he, too, has had to plan for backup plans to a backup plan.

“In years’ past I would normally plan one game ahead with my pitchers, now I’m planning three games in advance,” he said. “This year you have to have a backup plan and a backup plan for your backup plan.”

The Eagles have had their three main starters healthy for the majority of the season.

“We’ve been lucky in that we haven’t had to throw anyone who isn’t ready out there,” said Chase. “It’s (pitch counts) are definitely in the back of my mind, but I haven’t pulled a pitcher yet because of pitch count. We’re hoping to build up each pitcher we have in case something goes awry in the postseason.”

Added Ruiz: “We want fresh arms for the playoffs but we want to ensure at the same time our guys are where they need to be. Barring anything happening that we can’t control, our staff is in a good spot.”

 

Central Maine staff writer Drew Bonifant contributed to this report.

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