CINCINNATI -- The Pirates apparently are plenty serious about limiting their prospects' pitch counts.
About a month before Bob Milacki resigned as pitching coach at Class A Lynchburg last week, he and manager Jeff Branson each was docked three days' pay for allowing Danny Moskos, the Pirates' first-round draft pick last summer, to exceed his limit by about a half-dozen pitches, according to two sources.
The incident happened April 23 at Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Moskos had two outs in the fifth, and the Hillcats' staff wanted him to get one more out to qualify for the victory. He was two pitches under his limit, but Willy Cabrera, a hitter with a free-swinging reputation was next. Cabrera worked a long at-bat, then reached on an error, after which Moskos was lifted.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington did not delve into that incident, but he acknowledged a zero-tolerance policy for exceeding pitch limits at the lower levels of the minors.
"If a pitcher gets close to that area of his limit, the staff can make a decision as to whether to let him face another batter or not," Huntington said. "But, once he reaches that ceiling, there's no decision to be made. He's out."
He was asked how important it is to apply that universally.
"We all need to pull in the same direction. Is it going to happen overnight? No, unfortunately, it's not. We're trying to draw the thought process from our staff. But, once we reach a decision, we do need everybody to be compliant. The pitcher extending himself at that level exposes himself to significant injury, and that's not something we're willing to risk."
He added that the pitch limits could help performance, too.
"We're trying to teach all our pitchers to be efficient, to pound the bottom of the strike zone. The quick answer to our pitchers who don't like the pitch count: Pitch more efficiently."
Kyle Stark, director of player development, explained that the Pirates' plan at the lower levels includes pitch limits for an inning, a game and three-start sequences. A pitcher who performs well over three starts can raise the pitch limit for his next game. Similarly, three poor starts will lower the limit.
Also, the team tracks what is calls an "effective" pitch count, based on an outline created by former Pirates closer Kent Tekulve. In that measure, for instance, 100 pitches through seven innings is less stressful than 85 through four innings.
Each throw in the bullpen and side sessions is tracked, too.
"The point of pitch counts is, one, to protect our arms and, two, to promote our philosophy of being efficient, pounding the zone, getting ahead of hitters and not pitching away from contact," Stark said. "It also allows us to find out which pitchers can handle a heavier workload rather than simply guess based on body type, effort level, etc."
There are pitch limits in Class AAA and AA, but managers and coaches are given more latitude.
Milacki's departure as Lynchburg's pitching coach, the Pirates have said and reiterated yesterday, was for personal reasons. He was replaced by Mike Steele, formerly of Michigan State University.