Diamond Notes: A structured routine for pitchers

The answer is a structured routine


By: Austin Alexander-November 7, 2007

Most pitchers and parents out there believe if they can buy enough lessons and get with that one pitching guru, that everything will come together and their velocity will jump 10 MPH! While many mechanical flaws can be fine-tuned in the bullpen and quality instruction is an element to success, there is another way to build and maintain a strong and healthy arm. Bad news though, it requires some forethought, a lot of work and loads of dedication.

Two words: Structured routine, period. People want velocity to emerge like magic during one lesson or bullpen with a coach. Pure ignorance! You want to maintain velocity deep into a game or season, the only answer is a structured routine…a foreign term to most high school kids.

Ever wondered why some prep arms come out of the gate hitting 87 in the top of the first, top out at 84 in the second inning and sit at 80-82 when their most critical pitches are being thrown during the latter stages of the game? Some young pitchers pitch in the mid to upper-80’s when the season begins but, come playoff time, their do-or-die pitches range between 81-83.

Answer: They prepare sporadically. Seldom ever do they prepare within a routine that never wavers, never. Not weather, not books, not what they think is a busy schedule. You either commit to it or shock your body. There is no in-between.

Two variables can justifiably affect an in-season routine. Two-way players and coaches who will not keep their pitchers up-to-date with when his next start will be.

There is no question that having to juggle a position with pitching can make it tougher to execute a routine. But I liken it to a switch-hitter who has to work overtime to keep himself sharp on both sides of the plate. He has to treat his craft as though he is two separate players, therefore having to put in more time than the average hitter.

Coaches should have a plan for their starting pitchers. But in the event they don’t, most coaches at least have an idea of who is going to start for them on the mound. If the coach does not communicate this to his pitchers, then the pitcher should take it upon himself to open the dialogue between he and his coach. If a player is truly committed to his body, his craft and the team’s success, that coach will most likely open up and help the pitcher formulate a routine designed to help his club win baseball games. Afterall, what coach doesn’t want to develop young talent and win championships?

Here’s a dose of honesty…

Pitchers, ya gotta work! You have to commit your mind and body to a gameplan. Chances are you have long-tossed, lifted and run poles before. Maybe even quite a bit, even more than other players on your high school team. While that might win you the “coaches award”, if it is done without a design and executed on a daily basis – without fail – then you are basically spitting in the wind.

Hall of Famer and 300-game winner Tom Seaver is well-noted for a night that he did not pitch. He’d been scheduled to throw a Sunday game on the road that was rained out. When his flight landed late that night, he had the Mets clubhouse attendant turn the stadium lights on so he could throw his 100 pitches into a net. It was his day to pitch. His body knew it was his day to throw…and so he did, in the middle of the night, even though it was far from convenient.

I once had a pitcher who was our #1 starter and was scheduled to pitch on Friday night game against a conference rival. It was a Wednesday and his day to lift. We had a game on the road and returned to campus at 3:15 a.m. Fifteen minutes later he was in the weightroom, got his lift in AND was in class less than four hours later. Did I mention, he got the save in that game against the #1 ranked team in the country (because it was his day to throw) AND wrote a term paper on the bus ride home. That’s commitment to his schoolwork, himself and the program!

So what should a pitcher do between outings? It’s going to vary from player to player. Every arm, body, delivery and demands are different from guy to guy. Instead of flooding DP with emails over what a good routine may entail, we’ll refer you to a previous article written by David Marchbanks as a starting point. To view, click here.

Understand, however, that a routine has to be individualized and may be amended if the arm and body don’t cooperate. On a staff of fifteen, it is conceivable that there may be 10-15 different daily routines. That speaks to how the individual has to be in touch with his arm and body, then determine what the arm/body needs to be ready to go on his day to pitch. Consistent communication is strongly encouraged between the pitcher and his pitching coach in an effort to arrive at the precise routine.

Here is another angle. Players who commit to excellence, generally have a psychological advantage over their opponent, whether it be a teammate that they are competing with for a job or a rival on the other side of the field. When you truly pay the price to have success, you feel like you are mentally on a power-play against the competition.

Now, the majority of high school pitchers reading this article will think this theory sounds great and consider altering their lackluster way of going about their business…but then go right back to winging it the way they always have and wonder why their velocity fluctuates.

It’s a choice every player has to make for himself at some point. It can’t be pushed on him by a parent or even by a hardcore coach. The player must be driven to improve, not just willing to get better. There is a difference.

So next time you think you can dabble in hard work and expect big-time results at a high level of play, I’ll show you a Roger Clemens or a Nolan Ryan who defied father time and all of the odds to become durable power pitchers late into their 40’s for one reason, a rugged structured routine. In this game, every player eventually realizes a high price must be paid or they spend the rest of their lives wondering what could have been.