In American baseball, managers talk about pitch counts as if they’re a death sentence. Once a player has reached a certain number of pitches, he’s out. End of story. That’s particularly true in high school and youth baseball, where athlete’s bodies are still developing and the long term health of their arm may be more fragile.
There are no such concerns in Asia, which helps explain why one superstar teen pitching in South Korea is making national headlines at home while setting off blaring alarm bells in the U.S.
As reported by the Yong Hap news agency, Daegu (S.K.) Daegu Sangwon High School pitcher Lee Su-Min set a new national prep record with 26 strikeouts in the course of a 10-inning game. Lee through all 10 innings of the matchup against area rival Daegu (S.K.) High School, allowing just three hits and three walks in a 2-1 victory.
In the process, the 17-year-old starting pitcher threw an astounding 162 pitches. Perhaps ironically, given Lee’s remarkable control, his team won on a walk-off walk in the bottom of the 10th.
While Lee’s 162 pitches would make anyone concerned, they’re only a small part of his worrisome overall workload. Again according to Yong Hap, the teen is averaging 139 pitches per game in 2013.
For his part, Lee claims that he has felt no arm problems despite the high pitch counts, perhaps because he gets five off days -- one more than a standard MLB workload -- between starts. Still, 139 pitches is an awful lot to put out even over the course of a week.
His manager seems to realize that such a lofty pitch count may not be able to last, either. Daegu Sangwon manager Park Young-jin told Yong Hap that he is already considering using Lee as a closer rather than a starter during the second half of the season just to keep him healthy.
Not that Lee will be happy with such a shift, of course.
"When I start, I never even think about who will pitch in relief after me," Lee told Yong Hap. "When I am pitching, my manager doesn't even have other pitchers warming up in the bullpen. He knows my personality.
"As long as my arm feels good, I'd like to keep starting. I haven't put too much thought into my number of pitches. I get plenty of rest in between, and so it's fine."