How many times have you heard the cliches that coaches yell at their pitchers when they are struggling to throw strikes?
- You do not have to strike everyone out.
- Get ahead.
- Let your fielders help you out.
- Throw it over and make him hit it.
From a personal standpoint, nothing is more irritating than coaches, players or fans yelling at a pitcher to throw strikes when it is obvious there is nothing more he would rather do.
Yes, it is very frustrating, but do not let the players see that frustration. Face it, pitchers have extremely fragile egos and their confidence can be shattered easily when things are not going their way. Pitchers must develop confidence in their ability to throw strikes, and game situations should not be the first time that a pitcher tries to do this. Batting practice is the key!
Batting practice is the perfect opportunity for all pitchers to develop and internalize confidence in their ability to throw strikes and master pitches. Very few coaches would think of scripting a practice schedule without batting practice, and the same should be true with pitching practice.
Pitching in game-like situations is the only way for pitchers to improve. Why are senior pitchers usually better than freshmen? The answer is they have more experience from throwing more innings. Batting practice is the perfect tool to give both inexperienced and experienced pitchers innings.
The only way to improve a pitcher’s ability to throw strikes and develop confidence in their abilities is to let them pitch in a live situation. The bullpen is a great place for refining mechanics, but all pitchers need to experience live hitters. This is especially true in the northeast where the weather is very unpredictable, and even regular pitchers lose their sharpness waiting for the rain to stop or the snow to melt.
The following outline is the rationale for why all pitchers must pitch batting practice on a regular basis:
The hardest task may be to convince the head coach to sacrifice the quantity of swings to the quality of swings per batter per practice. Hitters will not get as many swings. Even in a situation where there is staff cooperation, there are still disagreements on this strategy.
It is easy to throw strikes when there is no batter. The old expression that the pitcher had great stuff in the bullpen is accurate just by the fact that it is easier to throw there. While a stand-in batter in the bullpen is better than nothing, it is still easier to throw strikes when the batter is not swinging. The challenge of a real batter cannot be simulated without their swinging.
More Relaxed Than Game Setting
Although batting practice is live, there is not the same pressure as the game situation. Pitchers cannot win or lose a game in batting practice; however, the skills refined there can win a game in the future.
Develop Confidence in All Pitches
Batting practice is an excellent chance to work on basic pitches and try new pitches which have already been tried in the bullpen. For example, how better for a pitcher to see the effectiveness of a changeup or breaking ball than to see it fool the batter in batting practice? This strategy does not mean that the pitcher challenges the batter on every pitch; it means the pitcher tries to throw a strike on every pitch.
Pitchers can develop confidence in throwing strikes. A pitcher can see that even grooving strikes can get people out. Develop a batting practice average chart. It is surprising to see how many lazy fly ball outs that pitchers can get by simply throwing strikes. Pitchers can work on throwing all their pitches regardless of the count.
Develop Confidence in Home Field
If your field is spacious, pitchers see during batting practice that it is not easy to hit balls out of the park. Also, the more experience pitchers get on the home mound with the same pitching background as a game, the better the home field advantage. Again, pitchers’ egos are fragile. Give them every possible advantage.
Teams develop confidence in their pitchers when they are not beating themselves with walks. Pitchers learn to work quickly, which gives confidence to all players. Coaches decide from what they see during batting practice when young pitchers are ready to get into a real game situation.
Hitters Improve By Seeing More Live Pitching
Live pitching with breaking pitches, changes in speed, and real velocity on fastballs makes better hitters. Hitters may get fewer swings, but they are quality swings against quality pitches. Hitters learn to stay back and hit changeups, which is hard to simulate with a coach who throws only 60-mph at best. Pitchers should always tell the hitter when throwing a breaking pitch. Changeups may be thrown at any time without notice. Hitters and pitchers communicate with each other during or following practice about what they notice in the delivery. Is the pitcher tipping his breaking pitch? Is he slowing his arm speed on the changeup?
Batting practice may take many forms. Pitchers can throw regular rounds of 5 to 8 swings per batter or they can throw in an intrasquad situation. The intrasquad concept can best be accomplished when each batter starts with a 2-1 count. Pitchers throw for as little as 5 minutes or as long as 15 minutes. The key is that all pitchers get a regular rotation to pitch live at least twice a week. Catchers are not a necessity, although using them is recommended, especially for more inexperienced pitchers.
Remember, tees, soft toss and short toss are a few of the options to get hitters more swings. Practice these options in another group while the live pitch takes place. Again, making a commitment or convincing the head coach to let pitchers pitch in live situations might be the greatest challenge.
This commitment does not mean letting pitchers throw live once a week; it means letting each pitcher throw live a minimum of two times per week.
No, hitters will not get the same number of swings each day, but the quality of each swing will be worth the sacrifice.
Terry Mularski has been an assistant coach at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood, Pennsylvania for all 14 years of the program’s existence. Mularski’s main responsibility for the Wolfpack is coaching the pitchers. In the program’s first five years, the Wolfpack amassed 147 victories while only losing 89 games.In 2005 the Westmoreland baseball team advanced to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III World Series for the first time in school history. The Wolfpack took fourth place in the event.