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MLB Pitch Count Rules: An Easy Explanation

One of the things all baseball players grew up with is something called the pitch count rule. Depending on your age and how many days of rest you’ve had, you were eligible to pitch a certain number of innings or pitches (depending on the rules of the league). Because of the relevance of pitch counts while growing up, many people wonder if there is a pitch count limit in MLB.

Pitcher in a pinstripe uniform with a serious look on his face. Text on the right reads "MLB Pitch Count Rules An Easy Explanation"

MLB pitchers do not have a pitch count limit during regular-season games. MLB pitchers are allowed to pitch for as many innings as they wish, or until the manager decides to bring in a relief pitcher. In spring training games, MLB teams have the option to enforce a 20 pitch rule to end an inning.

MLB pitchers are professional players and they are better able to understand the risk/reward concept of how many pitches they are throwing. And although there is not a pitch count limit, MLB teams do have the option to end an inning after 20 pitches, but only during spring training games.

MLB’s Pitch Count Rules

It might seem odd to players who grew up knowing there is always a pitch count limit for their pitchers, but there is not a pitch count limit in the MLB. In fact, I checked the Official MLB Rules, and the phrase “pitch count” doesn’t show up at all.

Even though there is not a limit on the maximum number of pitchers that an MLB pitcher can throw, there are a few rules that revolve around how many batters and innings a pitcher must throw.

These rules are not directly a rule around a pitch count, but they do force pitchers to throw a minimum number of pitches. What are the pitch count rules for MLB?

MLB Pitchers Must Pitch to a Minimum of Three Batters (or Until the Inning Ends)

Pitcher just delivered a pitch and the hitter is preparing to swing

One rule that was introduced at the beginning of the 2020 MLB season was the minimum number of batters a pitcher should face. What is the pitch count rule for MLB?

When an MLB pitcher enters the game, that pitcher must face a minimum of three batters or pitch until that inning ends. This rule was introduced at the beginning of the 2020 season and eliminates a previous strategy of bringing in a relief pitcher to face one batter while also reducing game time.

With this rule change, relief pitchers are allowed to come in, record one out to end the inning and be replaced for the next inning. However, if that pitcher were to come back for the next inning, they would need to face two additional batters so they can reach their three batter minimum.

Prior to this rule change, managers would bring in a relief pitcher for one batter. The strategy was to give the defense a favorable advantage against the batter. Either the manager knew the batter struggled against a specific relief pitcher or that manager knew that a certain matchup (like a lefty pitcher on a left batter) gave the defense the best chance to record an out.

Once the pitcher faced that one batter, they would be removed from the game for another relief pitcher.

Bringing in a new rule of pitchers needing to face a minimum of three batters or pitch until the inning ends was one of the many rules the MLB implemented to try to speed up the pace of play.

The exceptions to this rule are when a pitcher is required to leave the game due to an illness or an injury. In these two scenarios, pitchers can be replaced before their minimum batters faced is met.

MLB Spring Training Games Have a 20 Pitch Rule

One rule the MLB implemented during the 2021 spring training season was a 20 pitch rule. Some people are referring to this rule as a type of ‘mercy rule’ because it allows a half-inning to end early if a team opts to end it early. What is the 20 pitch rule for MLB?

In MLB, the 20 pitch rule is that teams can opt to end a half-inning early if their pitcher has thrown more than 20 pitches during that half-inning and the current at-bat is completed. This rule only applies to spring training games.

In the scenario where a team chooses to end the half-inning early, the pitcher is allowed to start the next inning. The previous inning ended as if all three outs were achieved so the pitcher would start the next inning with nobody on base, no outs, and a fresh count on the next batter.

MLB Pitchers Do Not Have a Set Limit of Pitches Per Game

Pitchers have the responsibility of acquiring outs, whether it’s through strikeouts or by giving their defense a chance to make a play. That can lead to a lot of pitches by a pitcher. And with nine innings of baseball, how many pitches can a pitcher throw in MLB?

MLB pitchers do not have a limited number of pitches they can pitch in one game. MLB pitchers can throw an entire game, regardless of how many pitches have been thrown.

Non-professional baseball leagues, like Little League, will have a pitch count limit, but the pitch count limits vary from league to league.

The record for the most pitches thrown in a single MLB game is 360 pitches, set by Leon Cadore in 1920. But the MLB does recognize that limiting pitch count is the best way to protect a player’s arm and most MLB starting pitchers will stay around 100 pitches per game.

To help younger leagues form their pitch count rules, the MLB has put together a guideline for youth and adolescent baseball leagues on pitch counts. They break down the recommended amount of pitches and rest based on the player’s age.

Although this chart does not determine how many pitches can be thrown by each league, it does help leagues and parents know what a good recommendation is for how much a youth baseball player should be pitching.

MLB Pitchers Can Pitch An Unlimited Amount of Innings Per Game

To retire an inning, pitchers must get three outs, but how they get those three outs can greatly impact a pitcher’s pitch count. Since the number of pitches varies from inning to inning, it’s normal to wonder about how many innings can a pitcher pitch in the MLB.

MLB pitchers do not have a set limit of innings they can pitch in one game, but most MLB pitchers will pitch seven to eight innings on average.
It’s fairly uncommon for MLB pitchers to pitch the entire game, but it does happen when the pitcher is pitching well. When pitchers are able to pitch for every inning of the game (including any extra innings), they are awarded a Complete Game (CG).

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.