Pitchers: Pre-Game Routine (part 1 and 2)
by Bob McCreary - Baseball by the Yard http://baseballbytheyard.blogspot.com/
Going into his fifth start of this 2011 season, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez had a 1st inning ERA of 29.25. Prior to his latest start, the announcers talked quite a bit about what causes pitchers to have so much difficulty in the first inning. They also mentioned that the pitching coach had been working with him on some adjustments to his pre-game routine both physically and mentally. This problem with Volquez is actually more common among starting pitchers than a lot of fans realize. This phenomena is especially true at the high school level mainly because many pitchers do not warm up properly. There are a couple times during the course of a game when pitchers are at their most vulnerable. The first inning is usually at the top of that list. However, with a few adjustments and a little more focus during their pre-game routines, many pitchers can eliminate or at least minimize the vulnerability that comes with not being fully prepared to pitch. Unfortunately, many losses occur because of what happens in the first couple innings of games.
Below is a pre-game schedule for a starting pitcher in a game that starts at 3:45pm (our start times). A pitcher certainly can adjust the times to fit any game time if needed. Below the schedule are some additional thoughts on the process.
3:05 - 3:15
- Jog to centerfield and back
- Sprints – start with some short sprints (90 ft) and finish with a couple long ones (150')
- Dynamic stretching of the arm and legs
3:15 – 3:25
- Short toss – play catch to loosen the arm
- Long toss – Gradually move back to about 90-100 feet (all line-drive throws, no big arcs)
3:25 – 3:40
- 45' toss – catcher down. Working on location using full mechanics
- 75' toss – gradually work back to 75' toss, still with catcher down, working on location, full mechanics
- On mound – throwing routine (this will be tomorrow's post!)
3:40 - 3:45
- Go to the bench, drink some water, put a jacket on, rest, and focus
Pre-Game Routine Notes:
- The days of grabbing a ball and a catcher and throwing for 5 minutes before game time ended in Little League. The 40 minute routine above allows a pitcher to get fully prepared both physically and mentally before starting the game.
- Whether a pitcher is throwing short toss, long toss, or on the mound, he is always focusing on his command and throwing to a location.
- Whenever a pitcher is using his full set of mechanics he should be throwing to a catcher who is squatting down. Play catch (without full mechanics) with the catcher standing but when you are pitching (using mechanics) he gets down. This gets the body used to throwing downhill in the lower part of the strike zone. Pitching to a standing catcher promotes a pitch that is chest high which is a BALL in every high school league on Earth.
- The routine above allows pitchers to work on multiple things at the same time which saves pitches and energy. He is never just throwing. When he throws he is loosening his arm, focusing on location and command, reminding his body of the proper mechanics and release point, and he is throwing downhill. Only focusing on one of those things at a time considerably lengthens the warm-up process.
- Finally, he wraps up his routine with NO MORE THAN 5 -10 minutes before game time. Anything more and the pitcher's arm and body starts to cool down too much. This is especially true if he is on the away team that bats first. Proper timing is a must.
- Every pitcher is different so the routine and timing above can be tweaked to fit the needs of each unique pitcher. The key point is to develop some kind of a routine that allows you to be prepared and be at your best from the first pitch of the game.
In the previous Pre-game routine (Part 1) [above], I provided a pre-game schedule for starting pitchers. The timing involved allows pitchers to properly prepare to avoid having a sluggish start to the first inning. Today, I provide a suggested pitch-by-pitch routine when pitchers are actually on the bullpen mound practicing their pitches. This too can be tweaked to fit the needs of individual pitchers. Below the chart are some additional explanations of things that appear in the chart.
- After the first few fast balls it is important to alternate pitches frequently. This is what pitchers will do in a game so it's important to get used to it in the bullpen as well.
- Another reason for breaking up off-speed pitches with a fast ball or two is to remind your arm of the proper arm speed needed. One of the goals of every pitcher is to get their arm speed on all off-speed pitches to look like their fast ball. In many cases, the arm speed does more to fool the batter than the break or speed of the actual pitch. Mixing in a fastball gives your arm the reminder it needs as to what the arm speed of the fast ball feels like.
- You'll notice that every pitch has a targeted location. This process has a dual purpose. It allows the pitcher to get his arm loose and work location at the same time. When pitchers are able to do multiple things at the same time during their bullpen sessions, they are able to save on the number of pitches thrown. In turn, these saved pitches can be reserved for later in the game when the pitcher may need them the most.
- BR - M refers to a "get me over" breaking pitch. Many hitters will take a breaking pitch early in the count so a pitcher must be able to throw it and have it end up in the strike zone if the batter takes it. BR - O refers to a breaking pitch used as an "out pitch." Both types of pitches are extremely important come game time so a pitcher wants to get the feel of both prior to starting the game.
- You'll notice that all the change-ups are located down the middle. I'm a firm believer that pitchers should aim for the center of the plate with their change-ups. You want the batter to think it's a mistake fast ball down the middle so he is encouraged to swing. If you get a batter thinking this, he will be way out in front of the pitch. If that is the case, the last thing I want is for him to miss it. If he hits it, it's probably an easy out. If he misses it, unless he strikes out he gets at least one more pitch to swing at.
- The last 10 pitches are from the stretch. I am constantly amazed how many pitchers I see at the high school level that do not throw enough from the stretch prior to the game. This is a big reason why many pitchers are very vulnerable the first time they throw from the stretch during the game. They just did not prepare themselves for it.
- It would be nice to have quality pitching coach with you while you are warming up to monitor everything but it is not necessary. The "win" or "loss" goes next to the pitcher's name so ultimately it is his responsibility to make sure he is prepared.
- It's important for pitchers to focus on what they are doing during their pre-game bullpen session. It's also important to NOT take the results too seriously though. Many great games have followed a poor bullpen session where the pitcher appeared to have nothing. Of course, many pitchers have also left the bullpen on top of the world and never made it out of the first inning. Do your best but stay level headed regardless of how you perform in the pen.