Legion goes to 7 innings and adds a pitch count
As Jacksonville Post 265 pursues its first winning season since 2015 and second since 2007 heading into its season opener, the landscape has changed in American Legion baseball.
First, a pitch count has been instituted – no more than 105 pitches per game, although the pitcher will be allowed to finish a batter if he reaches that limit. Pitchers will also have a minimum required number of days off depending on their pitch count – up to four if they throw 81 or more.
And, second, games will now be seven innings, not nine as in college and major league baseball.
“Hate it,” said Post 265 coach Ben Stewart, whose club opens Friday night against West Fayetteville at 7 p.m. at White Oak High School. “I’ve always had it where Legion was the step before college baseball.
“If you ask anybody who’s played…, they’d tell you playing the nine innings was a big deal. But I understand why we’re going to it. It kind of helps the lesser talented teams that don’t have as much pitching.
“But I hope secretly we go back to nine eventually.”
Both changes, Area II athletic director Rick Zickafoose said, should help pitchers – and even the fans, who often endure (or leave) games that last three hours or more as teams struggle on the mound in the eighth and ninth innings.
Or, in Post 265 third baseman and pitcher Colby Gandy’s words, “ugly.”
“I think stamina definitely has a part in it,” said the former Dixon player who is now at Lenoir Community College. “But a lot of teams just don’t have a lot of arms. I think this year we definitely have a lot of arms and we can run anybody out there.”
Second baseman Zach Spires, who likely will also be on the mound, likes the change.
“I think the seven-inning pitch count is better,” said Spires, who plays for Richlands. “It’ll keep a lot of pitchers fresh and we’ll be able to use them again.”
It also may help keep players focused, he added. Sometimes attention can wander in long games.
“Yeah, that’s true,” Spires said. “I remember high school season we played 10 or 11 with Trask. That was a game. It was probably 3½, 4 hours.”
Pitcher and first baseman Glenn Harvey, who plays at White Oak, isn’t a fan of the change.
“I liked it better when it was nine,” the 6-foot-5 Harvey said. “I just feel like it’s closer to MLB ball (and) different from high school. It was a lot more fun to play nine.”
Post 265 pitching coach Adam Daley is of two minds. Daley was a left-handed pitcher at Swansboro and then played club baseball at N.C. State.
“The thing I’m kind of against with it is the Senior Legion program is supposed to be platform or a jumping point into college. That’s what it’s always been in my eyes. It’s always that next step, the next oomph to get you ready for the next level,” he said. “So it’s kind of taking away from the Legion program a little bit in my eyes.
“But at the end of the day it helps our pitchers in terms of planning more. Someone said it yesterday pitching five innings in a seven inning game is a lot different than pitching five in a nine inning game. That’s where it’s going to help us a lot in terms of keeping the pitch count low and making sure their arms are taken care of because we’re very, very cautious about them getting hurt.”
The changes, which almost exactly mirror the high school rules, could make for some strategic adjustments for coaches, although most already coach high school.
“It’s a little bit of a different animal,” Stewart said. “Can it help? Yeah, but at the same time I don’t know yet. We’ve got talent out here for sure. But you still got Legion rules instead of high school rules. So you can still only DH for the pitcher.
“It’s got its differences, and we’ll just find out what they are and see if it helps us or hurts us.”
With the 10-run mercy rule now after five innings instead of seven, how a coach manages his pitching staff could change.
“You could have a little bit quicker trigger on a kid,” Stewart said. “You always want to hope they can work out of a jam when they’re on the mound. But with us only playing seven and the 10-run rule in effect after five, you try not to let it get out of hand too quickly so you’re not running into a 15-0 game.”
One area that may change, Stewart said, is at the plate and the base paths.
“You’re going to be more apt to put guys in motion a lot more (and) a lot sooner … and put the ball on the ground, whether it be a bunt or hit and run,” he said. “I think it’s going to be more how good can your guys play small ball and how good can your guys get them in scoring position and finish it off by getting them in.”
Notes - Area II will have eight teams. Along with Post 265, they are Wilmington Post 10, Morehead City Post 46, Laney Post 545, Ashley Post 129, Wallace Post 156, Whiteville Post 137 and Hope Mills (unaffiliated). … All eight teams will compete in the playoffs, with 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc., and both the first and second round will be best-of-five series. The final will be a one-game contest since both teams advance to the state tournament.