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In baseball or softball, a starting pitcher (also referred to as the starter) is the pitcher who delivers the first pitch to the first batter of a game. A pitcher who enters the game after the first pitch of the game is a relief pitcher.

Under ideal circumstances, a manager of a baseball team would prefer a starting pitcher to pitch as many innings as possible in a game. Most regular starting pitchers pitch for at least five innings on a regular basis, and if a pitcher is unable to do so, there is a high probability that he will, in the future, be relegated to duty in the bullpen. In modern baseball, a starting pitcher is rarely expected to pitch for more than seven or eight innings, at which point, responsibility for the game is passed to specialist pitchers, — set-up pitchers and closers.

Often, a starting pitcher is subject to a pitch count, meaning the manager will remove him from the game once he has thrown a specific number of pitches. The most common pitch count for a modern pitcher is in the neighborhood of one hundred. Pitch counts are especially common for starting pitchers who are recovering from injury. In the early decades of baseball, it was not uncommon for a starting pitcher to pitch three hundred innings or more, over the course of a season. In addition, there are accounts of starting pitchers pitching on consecutive days, or even in both games of a doubleheader. It is believed that these feats were only possible because pitchers in the early years of the game, unlike modern starters, rarely threw the ball with maximum effort.

A starting pitcher must complete five innings of work in order to qualify for a "win" in a game he starts. Under NCAA baseball rules, which govern intercollegiate baseball, a starting pitcher who pitches fewer than five innings can still earn a win if he pitches for a certain amount of time that is determined before the start of the game. It is possible to be credited with a loss despite pitching fewer than five innings. A starter who works six or more innings while giving up three or fewer runs is said to have achieved a "quality start".

A starting pitcher in professional baseball usually rests three or four days after pitching a game, before pitching another. Therefore, most professional baseball teams have four or five starting pitchers on their rosters. These pitchers, and the sequence in which they pitch, is known as the rotation. In modern baseball, a five-man rotation is most common.

Starting pitchers usually have at least three effective pitches to choose from — a fastball; a breaking pitch, such as a curveball, screwball, cut fastball, sinker or slider; and a change-up.

Well-known starting pitchers who are in the Baseball Hall of Famemarker include Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Some noteworthy pitchers who have retired and are not in the Hall of Fame are Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine (who isn't retired but is inactive currently).

Well-known starting pitchers who are currently active in major-league baseball include Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Johan Santana, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Webb, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett, Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Adam Wainwright and Tim Lincecum.

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