Rule of the Week: Pitching Change
One of the standard rules in all baseball codes is the pitcher named in the starting batting order must pitch to the first batter or any substitute until that batter completes his “at bat” (reaches first base or is put out) (NFHS 3-1-1, NCAA 5-5b, OBR 5.10f). The rule is excepted if the pitcher is injured or becomes ill. Under NFHS rules, if the starting pitcher does not face one batter, he may play another position (if he can re-enter), but cannot pitch (3-1-1 Pen). In an NFHS anomaly, the starting pitcher can be pinch hit for in the top of the first because the re-entry rule allows him to return to pitch in the bottom of the first (3-1-3). Except where noted, the material applies equally to NFHS, NCAA and pro rules.
In MLB, pitchers rarely play another position; an exception may occur in a very lengthy extra-inning game. However, in amateur games where pitchers are often the best athletes on the squad, they often take the field, not only on their day off as a pitcher, but also after they have taken the mound that day.
A pitcher may change to another position only once during the same inning in NFHS and pro, but only once per game in NCAA (NFHS 3-1-2; NCAA 5-5b, NCAA 9-4e; OBR 5.10d Comment 1). Under NCAA and pro rules, if the pitcher moves to another defensive position that team loses its right to use a DH (NCAA 7-2d2a, OBR 5.11a8).
Play: B1 singles off Smith to start the second inning. The coach goes to the mound and swaps Jones, the shortstop, with Smith. Jones retires the next two batters. The coach comes back out to return the two players to their original positions. Smith walks the next batter. The coach makes his third trek and repeats the switch so that Smith at short again and Jones is pitching. Ruling: Legal; each pitcher returned to the mound once.
Also, if a pitcher is removed because a visit to the mound mandates the change, the pitcher loses the right to return as the pitcher. So in NFHS play, if the coach goes to the mound for a fourth visit, the pitcher may move to another position, or later re-enter, if he is eligible to do so, but he cannot pitch again in that game (NFHS 3-4-1, 3.4.1C).
Under pro rules, if the manager makes a second trip to the mound in the same half-inning, the pitcher must leave the game (OBR 5.10L2).
In a college game, both of the above restrictions exist. The pitcher can return to pitch if he is removed after the third charged conference or after the second charged conference in any half-inning. In a rule unique to the NCAA, if the coach directs a pitching change from the dugout or goes to the umpire too make the change, without going to the mound, it is treated the same as a visit to the mound (NCAA 9-4b, 9-4-b AR 1).