As a minor league pitcher and as a coach the difficulties in properly maintaining and managing a bullpen are many. At high school and college levels, the bullpen is often nonexistent. When these players reach a professional level, they are not properly trained or lack the knowledge to know how and when to get ready, both mentally and physically, to go into a game.
1. The first thing a coach should do is build a proper bullpen. It should include at least two mounds and a plate area for the pitcher to get loose. A pitcher cannot get ready properly just by throwing on a flat surface on the side.
2. There should be a catcher, fully equipped, to warm up the pitcher. There should be good baseballs and towels available to dry off the balls, if necessary. If possible, the pitching coach or another player can accompany the pitcher to let the head coach know when he is ready.
3. The pitcher will need sufficient time to warm up, get loose, and hold, when ready, to go into the game. The essential part of relief pitching is knowing how to quickly get loose. As a coach, one cannot tell a pitcher to get loose in every inning of every game and expect him to be effective. He needs notice to
(a) avoid injury
(b) throw between 15 to 25 pitches
(c) get mentally focused for the game.
4. The pitcher must know how to get loose in the pen. First, he needs to stretch and loosen his arm. From the wind-up position, he will throw about 15 to 25 pitches, mostly fastballs mixing in two to five breaking balls and changeups. He needs to do the same from the stretch. Also, right before going in, a pitcher needs to throw two of each pitch at full speed to help gain his total focus for the game. At this point, it is probably a matter of the pitcher’s comfort zone if he wants to come in directly from the pen or come to the dugout. If the pitcher is coming in during the middle of an inning, he needs to only throw out of the stretch. He must get loose quickly, not waste time in the pen, and be prepared to pitch with runners on base.
Good facilities, catcher, time to get loose, knowing how to get loose, and proper player management all contribute to a great bullpen!!!
5. What do you do if your closer or relief pitcher is also a position player? “How do you get him loose while he is hitting or playing the field?” This player is usually your “best athlete” and should be able to handle the mental aspect. At this point, the best and most effective ways are to have him throw between innings during infield/outfield warm-ups and to get him loose between at bats down in the bullpen to make sure he gets the feel of a mound. He should throw mainly, if not strictly, from the stretch to insure comfort. He also needs to throw mostly fastballs since that is what he will be doing in the game.
Note: If a coach is using a starting pitcher to close games in between starts, it is important to limit his innings. Do not overwork a kid and risk an injury that may cost him a scholarship or a chance at a professional career.
6. Another good tool for effective relief pitching is the use of charts. Charts can help decide who, when and how to use a relief pitcher. They can also keep both coaches and players focused on their task and help manage pitching effectively in order to win.
Remember, most baseball games are won due to GREAT PITCHING!!!
Paul Fletcher played six years for the White Sox and Royals in the minor leagues. He also coached for Milton High School and Banneker High School in Atlanta, GA. He was associated with the Frontier League’s (Independent) Springfield Capitals as a player, Director of Media Relations, and field manager before they moved to Rockford for the 2002 season. In his last season at the helm, the Capitals posted a 47-33 record and eight of their players were signed by Major League clubs!