Pitchers are weird people. I have been around enough of them in the last thirty years of playing and coaching to know that they have oddities and quirks unlike most other players. It’s not their fault really, as the game of baseball itself is stocked with superstition and routine. But because the position is one that is drastically different than the other eight, with the pitcher being responsible for starting every play, the guys that stand in the middle of the field have to think in unique, personal ways to keep themselves focused and determined.
Yet, the average baseball fan sees only the performance from the first pitch on. Those of us who have been behind the scenes understand that so much of what happens during the game-what they are evaluated on-is determined by what a pitcher does before the competition even begins.
Coaches work to get these pitchers into routines that limit thinking and allow for the training and talent to take over. Breaks in these routines, once established, can cause chaos in a pitcher’s life, often giving him reasons to generate excuses if something doesn’t feel normal or if they can’t seem to find the strike zone.
That being said, if you are trying to get your pitchers in a place where they can become physically and mentally prepared to take the mound, give the following game day schedule a try.
An hour before the game…
The pitcher should begin his running program. Send him to the outfield and put him through a series of striders, focusing on getting the heart rate moving and loosening the legs. He should break a sweat during this routine. After 3 to 4 minutes of striders, have him run two poles. Once he has completed this, begin a stretching routine that starts with the lower body, as he should pay attention to stretching the muscles just warmed up, and finishing with the upper body, most specifically the throwing arm. Static stretching is fine, but also mix in rubber tubing to lengthen the arm and provide soft resistance.
Once he is stretched and warm, begin an easy long toss session. Unlike long toss sessions in the days leading up to his start, this one should be shorter, with the flight of the ball having more of an arch than normal and with little focus on the pull down. All he needs to do here is lengthen the arm and loosen the shoulder. I like to begin the pitcher at 60 feet and progress him up to no more than 150 feet or so. Then I walk them back down to 60 feet. Again, this is not a long session at all. A few throws from each distance increment is fine.
25 minutes before…
Head to the bullpen. Each pitcher will vary here, as individual tendencies, psychological dynamics, and body types will determine how long he needs to throw to get game ready. An average pitcher will have a 15 to 20 minute session of easy throwing off the mound that progresses to game-speed work for a short time. A few pitchers I have encountered like to throw a simulated inning in the pen to get their minds sharp and ready themselves for the situational game that awaits.
5 to 10 minutes from the first pitch…
Sit alone or with the catcher. Review signs and pitch selection. Get mentally prepared for the start. Find the focus he needs. Only he can do this. A coach is not needed in any way in the final five minutes.
Hydrate to replace the water loss during the last hour.
In all, a pitcher needs routine, no matter who he is. Use the format as a base and let the individual ideals for each pitcher dictate the personalized changes. A coach provides the structure and the instruction, but the player fills the rest in.