Japan sports agency head weighs in on Baseball pitching injury debate

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Two weeks after potential major league prospect Roki Sasaki made waves in Japan by not pitching in order to protect his valuable right arm, the head of the Japan Sports Agency has called for reform in Japanese high school baseball.

Sasaki, whose fastball has been recorded at 163 kilometers (101.3 miles) per hour and who has been scouted by 20 of the major leagues’ 30 teams, was held out of his prefectural championship game, which his school lost.

That break with the customs of the tradition-bound world of high school baseball sparked discussion across the nation about whether pitchers should pitch day after day and throw unlimited numbers of pitches.

“The era of saying, ‘It’s OK for kids to flame out in high school,’ is past,” JSA Commissioner Daichi Suzuki told Kyodo News in a Wednesday interview. “It’s essential to compete hard without injury.”

Suzuki, the 1988 men’s 100-meter Olympic backstroke champion, said baseball authorities need to conform to changing social norms that recognize the health risk of the marathon pitching feats that have long been a staple of Japanese high school lore.

“High school baseball has to be sensitive to the changing mood of the times,” said Suzuki, who confirmed that he agrees with the principles underlining guidelines published in America to protect young arms.

The “Pitch Smart” program, produced in cooperation with Major League Baseball, includes guidelines prescribing pitching limits and rest days for players at different ages up to 18, and spells out arm injury risk factors such as not taking enough time off from baseball every year.

“The best thing is to discuss the problem while considering pitch limits, the schedule and days off between mound appearances as part of comprehensive whole,” Suzuki said.

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