Preparing should be seen as an ongoing process for any athlete. Even when players are in the performance mode of their sport, taking advantage of those moments of inactivity to both access situations and refine skills can lead to achieving optimal execution.
Whether the preparation is cognitive or physical, the best players will take intentional steps to initiate a plan that begins with the end in mind. For pitchers this means not wasting warm up pitches. It means putting the body and mind in a position to succeed between appearances. Knowing what pitches bring the desired outcomes in a particular situation can even fall into the preparation category.
The Dirtbags have assembled a panel of coaches on this topic to consider 3 questions. These coaches have been tasked with considering these aforementioned opportunities to prepare and have produced some pointed and thought provoking responses. The Dirtbags coaches providing answers in this piece are:
- Andy Partin … 17u / Founder and CEO of Dirtbags Baseball
- Will James … 16u
- Phil Maier … 17u
What are some priorities that pitchers should emphasize between starts/appearances?
ANDY PARTIN – To me, it’s all about repair, recovery and growth (skill and strength). High school and middle school aged pitchers who play “tournament” style baseball will typically have 6-7 days between outings assuming they are not throwing in games between tournaments which will greatly affect repair, recovery and growth between outings; which is something I do not recommend.
Ask yourself as a pitcher, what am I doing to repair the damage I just put on my muscles, tendons, joints, etc.? What am I doing to recover and restore? Am I getting enough rest? Am I flooding my body with the nutrients it needs? Am I hydrated? Am I gaining confidence? How am I improving my skill between outings? How am I gaining physical strength between outings? How am I improving my muscular and cardiovascular endurance between outings?
Without a plan you are planning to fail. You must look at the time you have between outings and formulate a plan accordingly.
WILL JAMES – Few things that I emphasize between starts are:
- A) Keeping a routine … A routine between outings can be a crucial way to keep players healthy and ready for their next outing.
- B) Arm care … After each outing it is very important to focus on arm care the following day, with some band work/ weighted balls/ short and long distance running to keep players arm healthy.
- C) Getting better … Although you are keeping a routine each week, make sure to focus on one area of things to work on and get better. Always throw with a purpose.
- D) Explosive sprints … Majority of our conditioning is more about being explosive, not just pitching but a lot of movement you do in baseball is explosive movement.
PHIL MAIER – Routine is the biggest thing that needs to be emphasized. There are a lot of different philosophies on how much to run, what type of running (sprints vs. long distance), what lifting to do, etc. All of these things have their place, but a pitcher needs to find a routine of mixing in conditioning, strength training, band work and throwing. Throwing needs to include long-toss days, flat ground days, and bullpen days. One huge thing to remember about throwing is that the pitcher needs to listen to his arm and not overdo it when arm feels tender or is not bouncing back depending on how much stress the pitcher went through in his last outing. Bullpen and flat ground days need to focus on things to get better on from last start (i.e. CB for strikes and always spots FBs).
How should pitchers utilize their warm up pitches between innings to maximize performance?
ANDY PARTIN – First, know where you are in the line-up and know what the situation is of the game. In my opinion, there is a big difference between being “warm/loose” and being “ready.” In high school, you only get 5 warm-up pitches between innings so use them wisely. I’d suggest throwing your first pitch from the stretch with a fastball to the bottom part of the zone, then go into the wind-up (if you use a wind-up) with another fastball and throw at least one of each of your “feel” pitches and always allow the catcher to throw to second base from a fastball. And do everyone a favor and have all your signals figured out with the catcher before you hit the field to eliminate unnecessary mound visits.
WILL JAMES – Between innings I want our pitchers to be working on a mechanical flaw or trying to find the feel of a pitch. A lot of pitchers will say they can’t throw a changeup for example, changeup is a feel pitch and there’s no better time to work on those type pitches than between innings. In between innings you should never be going through the motions you should always be trying to get better and working on something.
PHIL MAIER – Since a pitcher only gets 5-7 pitches between innings (usually closer to 5), he needs to focus on last inning or innings of the game. Truthfully, if the pitcher is cruising, then he needs to just stay loose and fill up the zone. But, if he is struggling with FB command on a side of the plate or if he is having trouble throwing his CB for strikes, then he needs to take advantage of those pitches. If he is comfortable out of wind-up but having issues with the stretch, then throw them from the stretch. Anything he can do to find that groove.
What is an “out pitch” and how can pitchers identify and/or develop one?
ANDY PARTIN – When I think of an “out-pitch” I think of Mariano Rivera’s cutter of Trevor Hoffman’s change-up. To me, it’s not just a swing-and-miss pitch, but also a soft-contact pitch – it’s an “out-getter.” I think too many middle school and high school pitchers want to throw lots of different types of pitches instead of making two or three of them really good.
Take pitches you have right now and make them better. A lot of times it’s just about intent when throwing a certain pitch. Change your thinking. Take that “show-me” pitch and turn it into a “wipe-out” pitch.
Form a weekly and monthly plan of how you are going to make them better. Is it about changing your mentality on the mound? Is it about gaining confidence in a particular pitch? Is it about gaining more velocity? Is it changing your arm angle?
WILL JAMES – The out pitch is the pitchers strikeout pitch, the best pitch in the arsenal. The pitch you go to when the game is on the line and you need a strikeout. These pitches can be any type of pitch depending on what’s your best pitch. Ever week when you are keeping your routine of throwing program you should always be working on off-speed pitches when your working back in, finding the perfect grip. That’s the time that I feel it’s best to find what grip best suits you. By the time season rolls around you have perfected that pitch and can throw it whenever. Developing different types of pitches is an art.
PHIL MAIER – An “out pitch” is the go to pitch for the pitcher when he needs a plus outcome. It can range among several pitches based on how a pitcher is feeling, but usually it is some sort of breaking ball that can produce a strikeout when needed. To identify or develop an “out pitch,” the pitcher needs to know his strengths and arm slot. A ¾ arm slot pitcher should not try to develop a 12/6 as an “out pitch” but rather work on a slider or slurve for example. When developing an “out pitch,” the pitcher must commit to working on it during the days in between starts in bullpens and during flat ground work. Also, when playing simple catch, the pitcher can mess around with different grips for that pitch to see what grip allows for the best movement and possibly the movement needed in different situations of the game. The development is all about consistency and commitment.
Thanks to these Dirtbags coaches for their time and expertise on this conversation. Each of their responses has the substance to provide a plan for a pitcher to improve. In the least, their insights should offer a direction for pitchers trying to develop a path to effectiveness.
Check back next Friday when the series takes a look at 3 questions and 3 answers on outfield play.