[caption id="attachment_236" align="alignnone" width="1236"] Photo by Sports Illustrated.[/caption] The playing of the National Anthem has been possibly my favorite part of any baseball game I have ever been associated with....
As pitchers continue to enjoy their off-season I am offering them some holiday “food for thought”. These topics don’t sound like much, I know. Physical ability for pitchers is important but often the “little things” can turn a good pitcher to a winning pitcher – it takes a little focus.
Here are a few points – based on personal observations – for all to consider heading into 2018:
I am a believer in the pitching underdog. I firmly believe (and teach) that a pitcher who “knows how to pitch” has almost as equal a chance to be successful as a physically blessed arm and that his internal drive, confidence level, and baseball IQ, will provide many successes.
There is value to the staff guy who “eats up innings” to save a often overused bullpen corps. All it takes is knowing how to pitch and knowing your own strengths and limitations – and throwing lots of strikes with all of your pitches. Do not take any outing lightly no matter when, where, or who the opponent. Keep getting better.
Sometimes the most important out for a pitcher is the seemingly obscure third out after a four run inning and a guy stays on third. Often your team will end up winning a game 5-4 and that run you saved in the middle of the game turns out to be the critical stop of the night.
Treat every inning like the first inning. It may sound cliche but if pitchers develop a mindset where each inning (and every batter) brings on a new challenge it will help keep a consistent competitive approach.
A quick story: Two summers ago with the Mystic Schooners we had a large lead at the end of the game and needed to give one of our pitchers some work since it had been over week since his last outing. With a ten run lead most of the people there were ready to go and wanted to see all fastballs from our guy.
He threw a 1-0 curve, then a 2-1 change to their best hitter.
A MLB scout was next to our dugout and said, “come on, just throw fastballs and don’t fool around.” I defended my guy and said, “Isn’t he here to learn how to throw that off-speed pitch behind the count and show you that he can?” The scout looked at me for an extra second then nodded in agreement. Pitch like it is the first inning and don’t take any moment for granted.
Relievers – when you get the call to warm up GET OUT THERE QUICKLY AND GET LOOSE! You could be in for the next batter. Run out to the bullpen if you are not there already and if you are, start stretching with some urgency. If nothing else your body language will speak loudly to your teammates.
Relievers – think about your best two pitches you have going in the bullpen and do not be afraid to throw a first pitch off speed pitch (important to learn that second pitch), especially if you don’t have the overpowering fastball.
Starters – Think about breaking your game into three segments: 1. Bullpen pregame 2. First inning 3. The rest of the game. I have had many conversations with parents and kids who say they, “had a good outing except for the first inning.” Obviously the first inning is as important as any other! Go back to the beginning of this post and remember what I said about seemingly obscure outs. Those outs may end up in the first inning so do what ever you need to do to get through the first inning. If you need to throw all fastballs, or more off speed because you have control issues with the fastball, do what you need to do to get out of the inning with the least amount of energy expended. Usually the heart rate is elevated after the first inning and pitchers tend to “settle in” for the rest of the outing.
One of my coaching sayings is, “Stay away from an eight run inning.” Think about it and don’t panic after you give up a few.
By the way I have given up eight runs in one inning on a few occasions and I’ve lived to tell about it. Keep working on your craft and good things will happen.