TOKYO — Amateur baseball officials in Japan are debating the introduction of pitch limits aimed at preventing injuries to high school players.
Marathon pitching performances have long been a trademark of the National Summer High School Baseball Championship, which is held every August and is arguably the country’s most popular sporting event.
“They have pitch limits in U.S. amateur baseball but not here,” outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo of the Yokohama BayStars said at a recent media conference. “If you don’t think about protecting children there is no point in making baseball more popular. We need to think about the real value of sports, not just winning.”
In the U.S., the National Federation of State High School Associations in 2016 approved a rule change mandating that state athletic associations require a pitching restrictions policy based on the number of pitches thrown in a game. Beginning in 2017, the Oregon School Activities Association required its member schools to adhere to those restrictions.
As a teenager, Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches in 17 innings in the quarterfinals of the 1998 summer tournament, one day after a 148-pitch complete-game shutout.
He underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in 2011 while with the Boston Red Sox.
Kosei Yoshida threw 881 pitches over six games in last year’s tournament, and Yuki Saito threw a record 948 pitches in one tournament.
Yoshida and Saito now play for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan’s Pacific League.
The Niigata baseball association had planned to introduce a limit of pitches starting in regional tournaments this spring.
The Japan High School Baseball Federation pushed back on Wednesday, asking the Niigata association to reconsider its plan so that a national debate can take place.
Even in Japan’s pro leagues, pitch counts are not strictly adhered to and pitching a complete game is highly valued. Pitchers often throw on the sidelines when their team is batting, something Matsuzaka could not do in the majors.
The Japan high school federation has taken several steps to protect players during the summer tournament, which is often played in sweltering heat.
In 2000, it capped the number of extra innings to 15, down from 18. In 2013, it introduced a rest day after the quarterfinals.