Creating a preparation plan for a baseball player is oftentimes a game changer in terms of accelerating their development. When a player has a structured plan of what to improve on and how to accomplish it, the skills of that player improve dramatically. Perhaps the most preparation driven position on the field lies on the mound with the pitcher. Developing a plan for pitchers usually revolves around them being ready to take the ball every 5-7 days and performing at their highest output level possible. Involving a pre game routine for the starting pitcher creates comfortability and consistency the player and coach can count on. While the starting pitcher has his pre game program, the pitchers being used out of the bullpen are often left without any structure before they are about to enter a high leverage situation in the middle of the game.
Relief pitchers have the unique role of having both a pre-game and in-game protocol. Prior to first pitch, a pitcher that is in the bullpen for that game will have a similar program to that of the starting pitcher. Going through a full body activation and some sort of band program to prime the body for throwing. When throwing prior to the game, try and throw with a player in a similar situation as you. For example, playing catch with the starting Center Fielder will not benefit the bullpen pitcher due to the CF needing to be ready to play in the next ten minutes, when the relief pitcher does not need to be physically ready for over an hour. Playing some sort of loose long toss, not throwing the ball with full effort to feel the body moving freely. Once to the desired distance, usually around 120-150 ft, playing catch with off speed pitches at 60 ft to get a feel for them prior to being in the bullpen. This sort of program allows the pitcher to get in throwing volume and develop his pitches, without taxing the arm for later in game appearance.
Once the game starts and the game flow is established, the relief pitcher should have about 1-1.5 innings to be ready to enter the game. So if the pitcher is going to enter in the fifth inning, the pitcher will start getting his body loose again in the bottom of the third. Going through a similar program as he did in pregame, minus the long toss. Below is a brief overview of what a relief pitchers protocol is when getting ready to enter the game:
- Short full body activation
- Abbreviated band program
- Throw to a catcher to get arm at 100% effort
- On the mound, make sure all pitches are sharp
The timing of the in game protocol for pitchers in the bullpen are the most difficult to master. Unlike the starting pitcher who knows the exact time the game will start and can designate a time to start his pre game protocol based on how long it takes him to complete them, a relief pitcher does not have a consistent timeframe he can go by. The inning prior to entering the game may take three minutes, or it may take thirty. Bullpen pitchers need to be able to be ready to go in the game when his number is called.
Having a feel for how the game is going and having a coach help the pitcher through the game will have a direct impact on the timing of entering the game. The ability to get up to 100% quickly and being ready to go on the mound will allow the pitcher in the bullpen to not feel rushed when entering the game. With the unknown of when they will enter the game, the pitcher in the bullpen must be ready for anything. Having the ability to slow down in the bullpen is critical to both stay fresh for when they enter the game, as well limit the number of pitches thrown in the bullpen. Once a pitcher is ready to enter the game, the number of pitches thrown in the bullpen goes down dramatically.
Going pitch-for-pitch with the game is a great way for a bullpen pitcher to stay ready, find the rhythm of the game, and avoid throwing too many pitches in the bullpen. When a pitch is thrown by the pitcher in the game, the pitcher in the bullpen throws a pitch as well. This slows down the pitcher in the bullpen to limit volume, but allows him to stay ready to enter the game. Once a pitcher is ready to enter the game, this strategy should be completed until the pitcher enters the game. Rather than have a pitcher get ready to go in the game, then sit down until he enters the game, this strategy allows the pitcher to stay fresh and ready to enter the game and be ready to compete at a high level.
Structure in the bullpen is one of the most important aspects of building an effective and efficient pitching staff. If pitchers can have a plan both before and during the game, pitchers will find to be better prepared to enter the game, while doing so in an efficient manner that conserves the throwing volume on the mound while in the bullpen. Two main goals of a pitching staff to start a season should be to, number one, stay healthy and number two, perform at a high level. Having a structured bullpen protocol will allow the relief pitchers to accomplish both of these goals.