The season is underway for just about all of college baseball and I have noticed a lot of pitchers struggling with command. A lot of pitchers will demonstrate good command in bullpen sessions, but struggle to translate it to the games, especially early in the season. There are a few reasons in my opinion why this is such a big problem for pitchers. In this post I am going to give you a few different ideas to help translate the bullpen work to the games. After all, it doesn’t matter what you can do in practice if you can’t do it in a game!
Bullpens with Hitters
The first and most obvious thing you can do in bullpen sessions is to have a hitter stand in the box while you throw. It is a completely different feel having a hitter stand in versus no one. It’s easy to throw a fastball inside with no one standing in, but do you have the ability and confidence to do it with a hitter standing in? Thoughts like leaving it over the plate or hitting the batter can creep into the mind. The more comfortable you can get with someone standing in, the better. Another valuable reason to have someone stand in is to hear feedback from him own what he is seeing. Use all the resources available to improve your pitch selection and location.
Elevated Heart Rate
This is one of the more important things you can do to replicate what the pitcher will be feeling in a game. When the pitcher takes the mound, especially early in the year nerves are there and the heart is racing. Throwing bullpens are in a relaxed setting that allows you to breath normally and pitch comfortably. The second you get on the mound in a real game all of that comfort can go away. I like to have guys do a couple sprints, squat jumps, jumping jacks, or anything else to elevate the heart on certain bullpen days. This will teach them how to slow their breath down and to focus on that pitch. This simulates what they will feel in a game and also provides a teaching moment on what they need to do to control their breathing and body.
Any chance you have to make something competitive, do it. Bullpens are a great opportunity to compete against teammates and themselves. Maybe you play a game where they try to beat their previous score or they go head to head against another pitcher. Whenever you do a competition always have something on the line because the reality is there is always something on the line in a game. Make the training environment as similar to the game as you can. If anything, error on the side of too much then not enough. Let other players get rowdy and be loud while competition is going on. Force the players to focus and compete every single pitch.
Another option to prepare pitchers more for games is to have them throw live to hitters more often. Guys that don’t pitch on a given week should without a doubt throw to hitters in practice. Often times a pitcher won’t pitch for two weeks and then will be thrown into a game expected to perform. Keep the pitcher sharp by having him throw live the practice following a series. It doesn’t need to be more then five batters so that he is still able to throw the next game if need be. This is also a good way to keep your hitters that don’t play sharp as well!
Often times pitchers will throw bullpens at lower intensities than in the game. In some cases this is okay, but there should be a fair amount of bullpens at high intensity in preparation for the season. Using the radar gun in bullpen sessions will let you know at what intensity the pitcher is working at and promote more focus and adrenaline. Every pitcher wants to throw hard when they see the radar gun. If they are going to do it in the game you might as well do it in the bullpen and prepare them for how fast they will be moving. If all a pitcher does is go at 75% in the bullpen, they are going to have a hard time controlling themselves and the ball when they go 100%. Train for what you will be doing in a game to give you the best chance at succeeding.
These are a few things I have used and learned in the past to help translate bullpen work to the mounds. It is frustrating for player sand coaches to see pitchers struggling with command in the game when they have shown they can do it in practice. Get creative and find new ways to push and improve your players.
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