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New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka runs home to score a run on a sacrifice fly against the New York Mets on Friday. Tanaka suffered strains to both hamstrings as a result of tagging up.

Baseball is among the safest of sports. In fact, if you could eliminate just one position, the sport would be largely free of major injury.

According to a study published in 2010 in the journal Pediatrics, of all the shoulder injuries suffered by high school softball and baseball players that required surgery, pitchers suffered 73 percent of them. 

The reason for pitchers suffering that disproportionate share is clear enough — overuse.

At the high school level and below, though, the best pitchers are often among the best overall players and always in the lineup whether pitching or not.

Consequently, researchers led by a University of Alabama athletic trainer, Dr. Elizabeth Hibberd, decided to investigate if playing other positions might contribute to those arm injuries.

Last month, Hibberd and her colleagues published their findings in the Journal of Athletic Training.

They followed 384 pitchers from 51 high schools over the course of three years, recording injuries and the other positions they played. Only 2.6 percent pitched and did nothing else. The largest number (33.6%) also played outfield, followed by third base (18.5%), multiple infield positions (13.3%), shortstop (10.2%), catcher (8.3%), first base (7.6%) and second base (6.0%).

The injury rates were consistent from position to position, except one. Those who also played behind the plate suffered arm injuries at three times the rate of all the others.

Not surprising considering that, while they may not throw as hard as they are always able, catchers and their arms never get a rest.

Even before this study was released, Little League Baseball and USA Baseball were concerned about the pitcher/catcher combination. The latter group has long urged pitchers not to play catcher as a secondary position. Little League prohibits a pitcher from re-entering as a catcher if he has thrown more than 41 pitches in that game.

In a press release from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, Hibberd recommended, “Players and adults monitoring their play should use the results of our study and previous research, and work with athletic trainers to determine the injury prevention techniques to keep athletes in the game.”

If parents of baseball players were to read another recent study, this one out of Ohio State University, they might consider not allowing their sons to pitch at all. A June 1 press release from the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State reported “more than half of high school baseball pitchers report experiencing pain in their throwing arms during the season.”

Lead researcher Dr. James Onate said, “We found that the number of injuries peaked early — only about four weeks in — and then slowly declined until the end of the season.”

He blamed poor offseason conditioning for the early-season volume.

Lessons for parents aren’t limited to studies. Recent misfortunes at the Major League level are also instructive.

Josh Reddick of the defending World Series champion Houston Astros went on the disabled list last month with a staph infection that was originally thought to be a spider bite. He returned just last week. The lesson here is that if nobody saw the spider, one didn’t bite your child. It is almost certainly an infection — one that needs immediate attention.

Then on Friday, Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka suffered strains to both hamstrings when he sprinted home on a sacrifice fly against the Mets. Playing in a National League stadium, he had to bat, reached base and eventually found himself on third. After the game, he admitted he does not run the bases on a regular basis and on Saturday, he was placed on the disabled list.

The pitch to pitchers then is simple: If there is any chance you will be playing another position or hitting, you should fully prepare yourself to do so.

John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at jdoherty@comhs.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT. 

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