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Pitching is one of the most important aspects of the game of baseball coveted by every coach. There are some rules around pitching that help teams and coaches regulate their use of pitchers.
A pitcher cannot return to the mound after he has been taken out of the game in the MLB. However, if he is removed from pitching and moves to another position in the field, then he may return to the mound although that rarely happens.
This rule does not cause too many issues for Major League teams as their pitchers often do not play other positions in the field, but that is not always the case for lower levels of baseball where this rule comes into play quite a bit.
Let’s start with the lowest level of the game. Here is what the official Little League rule book has to say on this matter:
“A pitcher remaining in the game, but moving to a different position, can return as a pitcher anytime in the remainder of the game but only once in the same inning as he/she was removed. A pitcher, withdrawn from the game offensively or defensively for a substitute, may not re-enter the game as a pitcher. Exception: See Rule 3.03(c). Junior/Senior League: A pitcher may be withdrawn from the game, offensively or defensively, and return as pitcher only once per inning provided the return does not violate the substitution, visits per pitcher, or mandatory play rule(s).”
This rule actually isn’t that much different than the Major League rule, but Little League also enforces strict pitch count rules, which is why this one comes into play more often. The purpose of the pitch count is to protect the arms of the young players. This requires coaches to be more strategic about how they use their pitchers.
A coach may decide to swap his starting pitcher and another player in the field to get the last few outs of the third inning in order to preserve his starter’s pitch count. As long as that pitcher moves to another position in the field, he is able to return to the mound.
So why wouldn’t every Little League coach take advantage of this rule? Many coaches do not want their pitcher to get out of a rhythm and fear that doing this might also put them at higher risk for injury. Also, only five pitchers are allowed to be used in one game, so some coaches may view this as wasting a pitcher.
Little League does have re-entry rules that allow starting players to be removed from the game and return to the field later in the game to encourage coaches to allow their non-starters some playing time, but this does not apply to pitchers.
High School Baseball
The rules for high school baseball are similar as well. If the pitcher is removed from pitching but stays in the game at another defensive position, then he may return to the mound.
A pitcher is not allowed to return to the mound if he is taken completely out of the game. The pitcher must face at least one batter before being replaced by another pitcher. If he is removed from pitching before he has faced one batter and moves to another position, he is unable to return to the mound as a penalty for not facing one batter. This rule is ignored if the pitcher is “incapicatated or removed for flagrant unsportsmanlike conduct”.
The NFHS rule book also states that, “A player may be removed as pitcher and returned as pitcher only once per inning, provided the return as pitcher does not violate either the pitching, substitution or charged conference rule.” As is true in Little League, coaches don’t often swap pitchers in and out of the game every inning in fear that it may lead to injury. However, it is a nice option for them to have should they need to use it in a dire situation.
College baseball’s rules are very similar to that of the other levels previously discussed. In college baseball, there are not as many players who pitch and also play another position in the field when they are not pitching as is common in lower levels, but there are certainly more players who do that in college than in pro ball.
College baseball does have a Designated Hitter (DH) who typically bats for the pitcher. If a starting pitcher also hits, he is listed as the P/DH in the lineup, and when he is taken out of the game as pitcher, he automatically assumes the role of DH and hits in place of the pitcher that replaced him. When this happens, the pitcher may not return to the mound to pitch as the DH is not considered a defensive position.
Like professional baseball, college teams normally have enough pitchers in their bullpen to where they don’t have to worry about these kinds of substitutions very often. A pitcher returning to the mound after being taken out in college baseball is extremely rare.
The Double Switch
With the National League adopting the Designated Hitter like the American League, substituting for pitchers is not as complex as it used to be. The double switch is a way that managers can more strategically substitute relief pitchers when their pitcher is hitting in the batting lineup.
The double switch is when a pitcher and another position player are subbed into the game at the same time. The purpose of it is to avoid having a relief pitcher hit. Let’s take a look at a scenario in which a double switch would be used in a Major League game (in the National League pre designated hitter):
It’s the bottom of the sixth inning with one out, and the starting pitcher gets into trouble. The manager wants to sub in a relief pitcher and wants him to pitch the next couple of innings to save some arms in the bullpen. However, the pitcher’s spot in the lineup is due up when the team comes into hit.
The coach will likely then make a double switch bringing in a relief pitcher to replace the starting pitcher and a position player to replace another position player, (preferably one who has just recently hit). While they will take each other’s spots in the field, the relief pitcher will actually take the other position player’s spot in the batting lineup while the position player will take the starting pitcher’s spot in the batting lineup.
Once the team gets out of the inning and comes in to hit, the new position player will lead off the inning, and the pitcher’s spot will not be due up for several batters. This prevents the relief pitcher (who probably hasn’t swung a bat in years) from leading off the inning and allows him to go back out to the mound to pitch another inning.
While National League managers may not have to make these decisions anytime in the near future, college coaches and coaches of lower levels who have pitchers that also hit may be more inclined to use the double switch to their advantage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why don’t pitchers hit in the Major Leagues?
When pitchers make it up to the big leagues, they are paid a lot of money to get people out. Major League franchises would rather their pitchers focus solely on pitching than have their attention divided between pitching, hitting, and defense. Workout and preparation routines are more stringent in the Major Leagues and require more attention from players. Of course, there are some outliers such as the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, but even he does not hit the day before and day of his starts on the mound.
Why don’t many coaches like to take advantage of this return to pitching rule?
As mentioned earlier, coaches don’t like to run the risk of getting their pitcher out of rhythm. Stopping and starting also puts a lot of strain on a young pitcher’s arm, so coaches do not like to run the risk of hurting the arm of a young pitcher.