The radar gun can be so intimidating, can't it? How many stories have we heard (I know I have) about pitchers distracted by scouts and college coaches with their lawn...
Anyone can pitch successfully when they are feeling great. Things are clicking and no one can say or do anything that will throw you off your game. We live for those games, right? Real pitching refers to the times when you aren’t sure about your stuff during warm ups and your negative thoughts are confirmed in the first inning. The battle within has begun once again and it is time to get to work. Successful pitchers will have less of these internal wars with increased practice and focused skills work. This game by game journey is the reason we love to play baseball, there is always something to work on and learn more about.
The guy pictured above lived for the easy games but seemed to remember more of the internal battles trying to make it to the ultimate prize. I hope some of the lessons learned years ago – which are still deeply burned into my psyche – can help those who are interested in reading.
The Fastball – Best Friend and Toughest Opponent.
It is difficult not to be impressed with the 95+ mph fastballs we see on TV these days. The upcoming World Series will be a showcase for some power arms but in reality any MLB game during the season will have plenty of hard throwers for you to watch. Watching a pitcher fill up the strike zone with blazing fastballs, taking a look at the radar reading each time, is a pleasure to watch and provides great conversation with friends at practice.
There are few better feelings in baseball than confidence to throw all of your pitches, starting with a well located fastball. Conversely, there is no more difficult challenge than searching for answers when things are seemingly impossible out on the mound. The pressure builds with each wild throw and base on balls to the point of exasperation.
Walk Before You Can Run
Pitchers run into trouble when they cannot get their fastball over the plate, that is common knowledge. But trouble is multiplied many times over with each mph added onto the fastball – dirtballs bounce farther away from the catcher, high fastballs are going to the backstop, and your control has left you out there by yourself – no lonelier or helpless feeling in baseball. I have been there. There used to be times when I couldn’t wait for the manager to pull me because I just did not have it that night.
All of the work you put in to improve velocity has turned against you. How do you regain your control while at the same time keeping your team in the game? In these moments of stress it is best to break things down to basics, in other words, “Less is more.”
A couple of ways you can avoid allowing wildness to snowball on you are:
- Practice adding and subtracting speed to your target.
- Practice adding and subtracting distance to your target.
Both are self explanatory. Begin throwing to your catcher and work a “ladder” approach. If you throw a strike try to throw the next one harder. If the next one is a strike, throw the third even harder – or at least attempt to throw harder. Of course it is humanly impossible to continue to throw harder but the effort in your mind and body should be increased with each strike you throw. If you can control your mind you can better control your fastball.
If you do not throw a strike take something off the next pitch, relax. Find the strike zone again and work your velocity up the ladder, stepping back with every off target toss. See how many pitches in a row you can keep building upon.
The second idea is similar but it starts with a throw from a very short distance away into a target (maybe 10 feet). Pick a spot and continue moving back with every accurate throw to the spot. If off target then simply go closer and throw another strike to allow you to go further back. Mechanically the delivery should be comfortable, easy to repeat, and if you happen to work your way back to a long toss distance, 80 feet for example, do not force your motion any more than you would have done at ten or twenty feet. Trust your mechanics to do the right thing for you.
These are two practice drills. But what about fixing things in the middle of a game when there is no time to go off to the side and practice? Here are a few thoughts for possible in game solutions:
- Get to a “step and throw” mentality. Mechanics are often so far off in these rough outings that you want to reduce the thoughts about your mechanics. Sometimes pitchers will forego the windup and stay in the stretch only to reduce the moving parts and feel like it is a more efficient delivery. It is worth a try.
- Think, “95% will give you 100%” . Take a little edge of your physical intensity and think “firm” fastball more than “hardest fastball”. Many coaches have use the term “BP fastball” when asking for someone to throw strikes. Reduce the intensity in your body but keep the mental focus at a peak.
- Self -talk during your windup. Self-talk is a sport psychology term that is often used by athletes to calm nerves and enhance focus. Often it is used in a pre-game scenario but I recommend it during each windup during stressful times. It would be a voice in your head saying something like,”OK, small step back, balance is good, shoulders are good, kick is good, BOOM!” You go into your own game on the mound with each pitch. Talking to yourself in this fashion will help eliminate negative thoughts.
- Think about the first 10 feet of the pitch. During stressful situations pitchers are often letting the game speed up on them. In other words, they are thinking in desperation about their mechanics, the score, the runners, the batter, as well as the coach ready to lift him. Staring down to the plate can lead to extra stress. Simply tell yourself to get the pitch started and let the finish take care of itself. Thinking about throwing a pitch 10 feet will slow things down and simplify a stressful mindset.
The Harder the Need to Throw the Greater the Need to Relax
The previously mentioned drills are very simple and probably have been done by other coaches and players for years. Baseball is a game where simplicity will overcome a great deal of difficulties and lead to success as a player rises up the development pathway. Over the years of conducting lessons the underlying theme is to feel comfortable on the mound, hence the name “Pitching Easy”. When a pitcher is in a calm state of mind the game is easier, no doubt about it. When it comes easy you know you can place that pitch where you want it every time and no batter is of any concern. You are alone again on the mound, BUT it is a now feeling of you rising above everyone else and demonstrating complete control of the situation. This feeling can be practiced!
Finding Your Personal Path to the Good Lonely
So what is the best approach to pitching for you? If you look back at my previous blog post, “Lessons Learned From Many Trips to the Mound” (http://www.pitchingeasy.com/lessons-from-man…ips-to-the-mound/ ) you will understand that embracing who you are is critical to finding a path to success. Pitchers who are given the gift of a power fastball have to treat the gift with respect and work to make it perfect, or as close as possible. Those of us “average guys” still need to seek perfection with the fastball because it will serve as a perfect set up for the rest of the pitching arsenal.
In conclusion, getting to the good lonely requires you to be lonely in thinking that you are you and no one can take your gifts and improve them without your willingness to try and dedicate yourself to this goal. After finding your best fastball you can now become the best pitcher possible. Do not join the crowd and compare your fastball to anyone else. You will end up just one of the crowd and delay your chances of finding the good lonely which leads to success.