Use the Bullpen to get game ready
Dave Hartman Currently assistant baseball coach at Southeast Polk HS, in Pleasant Hill, Ia., Dave has coached High School Baseball for over 25 years. He has also coached college baseball, offers private instruction and continues to play in the MSBL. Dave is a self professed, "student of the game" and spends countless hours researching, and attending clinics. In his playing days he was a letterman and starter in both H.S. and college. As a coach, he has taken a H.S. team that had won only 2 games the previous year to a 25-16 record the next; then turned a 4-28 team in '94 into Conference and District champs the next season. He continues to build champions, and develop players, and is also the gifted and talented teacher at SEP (Click to close.)
This article evolved from some advice given by WebBall's Richard Todd in a 2008 "Pitching Insider" newsletter. One of our regular visitors disagreed with the possible risks implied by the the initial suggestions. What follows is the original advice and the exchange. In it you will understand not only some guidelines for bullpen management but also in how best to explain the approach to pitchers.
Most pre-game bullpens are too early
This is an absolute pet-peeve of mine when it comes to starting pitchers. You've got this stud, this stallion, and he is so anxious to bust out of the gate and get in the game that he starts his warm-ups way too early. He throws for 15 minutes and is loosened up, firing bullets and breaking off benders, his stuff is just great. So he stops - and there's still 15 minutes to go before he actually strides to the mound.
You know what happens - all the warming sleeves in the world won't help his mental focus or keep his legs and hips on target.
Here's the guideline - if a guy needs 15 minutes to get ready and you are home team, then start him 15 minutes to game time. If you're away, then 10 minutes to game start. Nothing wrong with having him walk straight from the bullpen to the mound.
Faulty and even potentially dangerous?
I just wanted to comment on your idea of going straight from the bullpen to the mound, in your article about pre-game warm-up. We feel that is faulty and even potentially dangerous.
Many researchers believe that a 30+ pitch inning is equally, if not more dangerous, for young arms than 100+ pitch games. If your pitchers throw 20 -30 warmups, and have an excellent 12 pitch fisrt inning, that could be 40+ pitches without a break.
How many pitches do you throw in your pre-game bullpen? We throw 23 or less. We always time our pre-game bullpens so our pitcher warms up then sits and recovers for approximately 7-8 minutes prior to taking the hill for his first pitch. We feel this simulates pitching then resting for a half inning of offense, just like a game. We also play in extremely hot and humid conditions (Iowa HS summer season) for most of the season. We never want our pitcher on the hill for 20-30 minutes at a time. Just something to think about.
"Saving the Pitcher" is a book that refers to the 30+ pitch inning. I believe it is by Will Carroll. It made me think about how we approach things. I would be happy to share more thoughts on how we handle warmup for starters, and relievers, as well as some of our training protocols. Just shoot me an email sometime. By the way, I am not saying I am right and you are wrong. I am just throwing out ideas for discussion.
Good catch, my mistake!
I am absolutely in agreement with Will, he and I have talked frequently over the years [he participated in a previous WebBall Pitching Challenge}. My mistake (above) was in not explaining how I have my pitchers throw bullpens. I have covered this before in other articles/newsletters but did not make it clear.
To explain... we do not throw 20-30 pitches continuously. We break it up with short rests during, and we also do it on the basis of 5-pitch batters when we get close to the end. But I do want them to end confident, not at an arbitrary bullpen pitch count.
In fact, I sometimes have had two pitchers alternating to a single catcher in a pen to give them more game-like time between pitches as well. This is a variation on the bullpen rotation approach that we have used at practices - an idea we got from Ron Wolforth on his lecture video "Revolutionizing Your Bull Pen Work" Here is the link for the drill as we do it in practice and for Ron's lecture tape.
But my peeve was about 15 minutes of rest, not a couple. 7-8 seems on the border of too much for me but, yes, would be a typical rest between innings. And yes, in hotter weather, the risk of body cool down is less, but the critical muscles still need to maintain not only warmth but movement. And yes, I want them to hydrate on the way to the mound - in hot weather or cool.
There is also a difference between starters and relievers, as to how they warm up and pace themselves (or not) as discussed. As for not wanting them on the mound in game stress for 20-30 minutes, I agree. Which is my point about fewer pitches and quick outs. Which also depends on being ready to get the best stuff across as soon as you take to the mound.
What I also didn't discuss is the warm-up throws from the mound. 8 pitches may be standard, cut to 5 if the ump thinks we have taken too long, but I also have pitchers who would rather just throw 2 or 3. I am undecided. What are your thoughts on that?
Conditioning first, then set sequence
We also are Wolforth Devotees, but mix in many ideas from House, Nyman and others. Our bullpens for starters usually consist of 18-23 game like pitches depending on the pitcher, conditions etc. We always use the same formula once they have run, dynamic stretch, tubing exercises, 1 knee work, step behinds etc.
Editor's Note: We might have refined and massaged this into a simple page of instructions (and we still might) but we like the way an exchange of ideas helps everyone see not only the absolutes and guidelines, but also the subtleties of adapting to real game situations. Nothing in baseball is black and white - not even the strike zone.
Once they get on the hill we start in the stretch with our catcher in front of the plate and locate fastballs gradually moving our catcher back until heated (sweaty and loose). Then we throw 3 FB (fastballs) / 2 CH (change-ups) from the wind-up, repeat in stretch, followed by 2 FB, 2 Curve wind-up, repeat in stretch. (18 pitches so far). Then we allow the pitcher to have some freedom to finish his set by working an imaginary first hitter, or for some blow 2-3 FB's from wind-up. Others like to work on locating a specific pitch.
We don't really use an arbitrary pitch count, but more of a set routine. We call our pregame a "23" because kids and coaches can relate form our indoor winter workouts.
RELIEVERS - We make all relievers run hard to the pen, to get a sweat going, and we get them throwing sooner, no tubes, minimal if any stretching. We will have our catcher close and pitcher on the hill in stretch, throwing downhill from a short distance. We will gradually have the catcher back up until we get to full distance. Sometimes if we really need to go quickly, we may have the pitcher and catcher play some quick catch like infielders 5-10 throws. Once the catcher is at full distance and before throwing any live pitches. The amount of pitches depends on the pitcher, the game situation etc.
MOUND THROWS - As far as between innings, 2-5 depending on the pitcher, weather etc. "Take what you need" is our philosophy. One thing we will not allow,
and MY pet peeve, is wasted warm-ups. Little effort. If you don't need five, don't throw 2 then half%#@ the other 3. We like to keep the game moving, and would actually prefer that our pitchers only throw 3 if possible. (One coach in our league has his kids throw 2 all the time between innings. It doesn't seem to hurt them, although I would leave it up to the players as long as they are effective.)
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