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Pitching for goodness' sake.

A developmental program that will help you get the most out of every prospect

Regardless of what level of baseball you coach, you must understand that your pitchers need a set program to help them get the most out of their ability.

The essential components of the program may be listed as follows: mechanics, location & movement, "stuff," intelligence, desire, flexibility, strength, conditioning, and arm care.

MECHANICS are obviously essential, but often overcoached. The basics include a solid balance point, separation of hands, and leg kick and leg drive, hip rotation, shift of balance, etc.

Do as Greg Maddux does - work mostly from the set position, as your biggest pitches in the game will be made from this position.

LOCATION AND MOVEMENT: Another tip from Maddux: The key to pitching lies in throwing to a spot on every pitch. When you have location plus movement, it becomes even better. Maddux learned how to make his modest fastball move 6 to 8 inches from left to right and about 4 inches down, all within the last 15 feet of the ball's flight!

How do you create movement? By experimenting with grips, wrist, and release angles. To perfect location, have your pitchers throw to a spot everytime they throw a baseball. Pitchers who throw without a purpose are not going to have location in a game. They will tend to throw "balls" and then have to come over the plate, which is just what the hitter is looking for. Make sure your pitchers try to locate the ball every time they throw in the bullpen or in a drill.

"STUFF" refers to the pitcher's overall arsenal: velocity, breaking ball, split-finger, etc. These pitchers can be enhanced by improving the athlete's strength (through long toss, fastball throwing, weights) and experimenting with grips, arm angles, and release points before settling on the final pitching package.

INTELLIGENCE includes knowing what pitch to throw in certain situations, reading the hitter's swing, and pitching to one's strength - things the coach can teach. When major league teams keep veterans around to help the rookies, this - pitching intelligence - is what they are looking for.

MENTAL CAPABILITY refers to the pitcher's ability to concentrate on one pitch at a time and not allow outside forces (adversity) to distract him. There will always be errors, bad calls, someone warming up in the bullpen, and opponents trying to unnerve the pitcher.

By working with the pitcher - having him visualize situations and how you would like him to handle them - coaches can do a much better job of preparing them for the game.

DESIRE: While much of this is inborn or learned at a young age, the coach can help improve it. He can create an atmosphere in which learning and competition are the norm. He can challenge the players to be the best they are by adopting a philosophy that rewards constant improvement.

FLEXIBILITY: If bulk ensured good pitching, Cecil Fielder would be a pitcher rather than a first baseman. It doesn't work that way. Pitchers must have flexible arms and bodies. They can work on flexibility - specific strength-training exercises - and make sure to stretch before and after every workout.

Any time you lose a pitcher because of a poor stretching routine that caused a strained muscle, you must realize that you probably could have prevented it.

STRENGTH: To achieve their full potential, pitchers must subscribe to a regular strength-training program whose major focus areas are the thighs, hamstrings, buttocks, lower back, abdominals, shoulders, and, of course, the arm.

All of the other body parts should be kept toned to ensure the transfer of power from the lower body to the release point. Rotational and medicineball/plyoball routines should also be used to develop the rotational power used in throwing.

CONDITIONING: The kind of physical readiness that will enable the pitcher to perform at maximum, or close to maximum, capacity for as long as possible. To enhance cardiovascular endurance, the pitcher must include such exercises as jogging, stairmaster, sprints, biking, and aerobics.

The three basic constituents of the workout are:

1. Pitching-specific exercises; remember, pitchers use their full power 10 to 20 times an inning, rest, then do it again - often over a two-hour period.

2. Build progressively to max stamina; doing too much too soon only causes injury and a loss of commitment.

3. Make the workouts fun and varied. Sprints can be done competitively using the stairmaster or bike while listening to music, watching TV, or reading. Running can be done in groups.

ARM CARE is crucial. The rest of the program isn't going to matter if the pitcher is incapacitated for some reason and cannot throw. Mechanics, shoulder exercises, the proper warm-up and cool-down throwing between outings - are all critical factors in keeping the pitchers healthy and productive.

NUTRITION is often difficult to control and difficult to get your athletes to understand, but it is essential to their health and efficiency. Every athlete must subscribe to a sensible diet and observe good pre-game eating habits. The literature is abundant. The coach can cover the essentials with pertinent literature.

INTANGIBLES: All the "little things in fielding, covering bases, backing up bases, and holding runners close can be improved by devoting practice time to them and emphasizing their importance.

BALANCE IN LIFE: Every coach should maintain a relationship with his players in areas both in and outside of baseball. Young athletes often face problems with their family, girl friends, schoolwork, drugs, careers, etc. Before a player can give his all to the coach, he must come to grips with all these things.

A great maxim for every coach: "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."

Set routines are important to the development and psyche of the pitcher. They should be designed for use in the bullpen, pre-game warm-up, warm-up for relief situations, and any other situations requiring a set procedure. In crucial situations, pitchers want a routine that will make them feel comfortable.

A few cautionary words:

1. Caring implies keeping informed and knowing when and when not to step in (avoid intrusion).

2. Control your language. You can enjoy a good relationship with your kids without over-salting your language. If the young athletes have to brush up on their four-letter words and tobacco chewing, let them learn it in the major league lockerrooms, not your lockerroom and your field.

3. Whether you choose to or not, you are going to serve as a role model to your players, and what they learn from you about discipline, attitude, responsibility, and accountability can be far more important than learning how to throw a circle change or pick a runner off first.

4. As a rule, you can be a friend - accessible and helpful - to your athletes without necessarily being a "buddy."

Wayne Mazzoni Pitching Coach Fairfield University (CT)
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Title Annotation:baseball pitching
Author:Mazzoni, Wayne
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Feb 1, 1996
Previous Article:The 2-hour-45-minute track meet.
Next Article:Improving speed.

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