A Special Post for Coaches: please rethink this age-old and very-well intended “practice.”
At this time of the pre-season, coaches are aware that pitchers need to increase their pitch counts so to handle the demands of the upcoming in-season games. Because you want to give your pitchers as much opportunity as possible to face hitters, the usual plan is to rotate as many as possible during an intrasquad or scrimmage. Because of needing to limit the pitches of each pitcher to get all the pitchers innings, many coaches send their pitchers back to the bullpen after they have pitched to live hitting to complete whatever number of pitches they need to satisfy their weekly pitch-count goal.
Some food-for-thought on this age-old practice and a sample solution.
If you think of the pitcher as having gears, he is in first and second (maybe third) in his warm-up pen. The minute he is on the hill in a game, he is in fourth gear or overdrive. His chemistry has changed and elevated since the bullpen and his nervous system is working at an increased pace. When he is done pitching in the game, all of those systems begin to down-regulate to return to normal — and this starts with his first step back to the dugout.
Returning the pitcher to the bullpen can be counter-productive because the competitive situation has ended, and he will be:
- Pitching with a chemistry that has started to readjust
- Pitching with a nervous system that is starting to recover (which can be experienced as fatigue)
- Pitching with conditions that are less than the “learning” environment on the “game” mound — which could reduce performance in a bullpen
For development, an athlete should perform his skill in his optimal physical condition; once he’s done, he’s done. It is difficult to peak twice in one day and if the pitcher is not at his best, the conditioning you think you are giving pitchers could be injurious as well as depleting.
Here’s a sample of how you could increase the pitch counts of your pitchers and have your pitchers face live hitting without having to send them back to the bullpen to complete pitch counts (these guidelines are for pitchers at least 15 years of age):
Saturday: rotate your pitchers as you do for a few innings.
Sunday: assuming they threw 39 pitches or less, this would be their one day off.
Monday: send them to do a bullpen for the purpose of increasing their pitch count. They could, for example, throw 79 pitches and then take off three days for recovery.
Friday: those pitchers would be good to go again in another scrimmage
By looking at each pitcher’s individual needs, and your desired scrimmage schedule, you could make sure you have pitchers ready to face hitters on all your practice days. In the end, this type of organization will produce better practices, and, therefore, better pitchers.
Please feel free to contact me via email or through my Facebook page if you need help with organizing your schedule. It is one of my favorite things to do and in the name of keeping arms safe, I am happy to be of help to all of you wonderful coaches who are dedicated to keeping our pitchers pitching!