HAGERSTOWN — Count North Hagerstown softball coach Amanda Fleming among those who like the National Federation of High Schools rule change that moved the pitching rubber back three feet — from 40 to 43 feet — starting this season.
“I think it’s a little more exciting to see more offense, rather than a good pitcher just overpowering everybody,” Fleming said.
So far, more offense is exactly what’s unfolding.
In 19 games played involving Washington County teams this season, 262 runs have been scored, an average of 13.8 per game. That’s up by 1.1 runs per game from last season, when 291 runs were scored in 23 games over the same time period.
To put it another way, a 7.5 percent change in the distance between the pitching rubber and home plate has led to about a 9 percent increase in runs.
“It will improve the offensive output all around the county,” Smithsburg coach Katy Barnhart said.
It also has led to some adjustments for both pitchers and hitters.
“The pitchers really have to focus on placement. That’s become more important,” Barnhart said. “They can’t just focus on speed, they have to hit the glove. Changeups will be more difficult because hitters have more time to adjust to it.”
The added emphasis on things like location, movement and changing speeds could help some pitchers, such as Clear Spring’s Amber Forrest — a Herald-Mail All-County First Team honoree last year who has pitched from 43 feet in travel ball.
“I just started learning some pitches,” Forrest said last week. “I’ve got a curve, a screw, a rise and a drop. I just have to find a way to make them work at 43 feet.”
“It gives her another three feet for her curve or her drop to work,” Blazers coach Ron Baker said. “A pitcher who has more than one pitch, the distance doesn’t hurt them.”
The increased distance should cut down on strikeouts, meaning more balls will be put in play and more responsibility will fall on defenses.
“Defense is definitely key,” Fleming said. “You’re expecting them to do a lot more work than the pitchers this year, and in our case, we’re counting on our defense to carry the load. We just want our pitchers to throw strikes.”
Surprisingly, both Fleming and Barnhart said some hitters are struggling with the longer wait time before pitches reach the plate.
“The timing’s a little different. A lot of them are used to quicker pitching,” Fleming said.
“We have a couple hitters on our team who are dead pull hitters. They have to adjust and wait a little bit longer,” Barnhart said. “I think you’re going to see more foul balls. I think you’ll see more hitters playing up in the box. Being up there will help with the distance change so it won’t mess with their timing.”