|Pitching - Game Management
Pitchers should be committed to each pitch they are throwing. They must believe in the success of each one. If a pitcher doubts her ability to throw a called pitch effectively, she should not throw it! The pitcher may shake off a signal with a shake of her head to indicate "no." The reason for shaking off a signal could be that the pitcher does not feel confident with that pitch in that situation, she sees the batter doing something and believes another pitch would be more effective, or she remembers what happened the last time she threw that pitch.
Shaking off a pitch can cause several problems. The catcher may believe that she knows the best pitch to throw the batter and may think that the pitcher is not trusting her judgment; in this case, a "control game" may result. A timeout may be needed to discuss the situation and reach a solution the pitcher feels comfortable with. If necessary the coach can step in. Ideally the pitcher and catcher work to develop an understanding in practice so that disagreements during the game are infrequent and easily resolved. Too many timeouts disrupt the flow of the game for the pitcher and her teammates.
If the coach is calling the game and the pitcher shakes the pitch off, everyone is in a difficult position. Because it is so important for a pitcher to have confidence in every pitch she throws, some coaches believe that the pitcher (not the catcher or coach) must call the pitch to be thrown or at least have the final say. If the coach calls the game, the coach can make it clear, well ahead of game time, that the pitcher has the power to change the call. Or the coach and pitcher can work during practice to ensure that they are on the same page so that the coach is unlikely to call pitches the pitcher is not comfortable with.
Once the pitcher has decided on the pitch, she visualizes the pitch hitting its target. She makes a mental picture of the path of the ball, using a series of dots to mark the path to the target. This exercise increases control, ball movement, and confidence.
Pitchers must approach every pitch the same way. The steps they take to the mound, the way they put the foot on the rubber, the place they hold the ball, the focus of the eyes—every physical movement should be the same regardless of the count, the score, or the situation. Having a familiar routine relieves pressure and allows the pitcher to focus on the task (see figure 12.2). The routine creates confidence and improves consistency. A consistent routine also sends a message to teammates and to the batter that the pitcher is in complete control!
Many pitchers tip off their pitches by showing too much of the ball or by using different movements for different pitches. By practicing in front of a mirror or studying video of the deliveries, pitchers can make sure that they give nothing away.
Pitchers may telegraph pitches by
Getting ahead on the first pitch is an important goal. Many batters take the first pitch. If this pitch is a strike, the chance that the batter will walk is greatly diminished. Pitches should be thrown to the corners of the plate, never through the center.
Pitchers should evaluate their pitches honestly. They should know their best pitch for each location, their poorest pitches, their strikeout pitch, and the pitch they'll throw when they need a strike. When pitchers are away from the practice and playing field, they should take time to think about their pitching performance. They need to analyze where things went wrong, how they handled it, and how to correct things in practice. By learning to "own" their skill, pitchers will be better able to make good corrections in practice and in games.
Pitchers know they will give up some hits, but they should remember that the outs they get will far outnumber the hits they allow. A great hitter will succeed only 4 times in 10. The defense will get her out 60 percent of the time. Keeping in mind that the batter will fail most of the time—and that eight players are behind her to help when the batter does hit the ball—encourages the pitcher to adopt a confident attitude: What is the big worry?
Much of the game is out of the pitcher's control. The pitcher's only job is to throw the ball to the target. Pitchers have no power over what happens after that. When they realize this, the job of throwing each pitch becomes much easier. What pitchers can control is how they respond to what is going on around them!
Pitchers should avoid showing emotion on the mound. By letting the batter know that they've lost control, pitchers give the batter the advantage. Umpires are people too and don't like to be shown up in a game. Seldom will pitchers get a call if they have reacted negatively to the previous one. Instead, pitchers should use that energy to focus on a plan of attack for the next pitch. They should evaluate their performance and adjust as needed; then they should go into their routine and step up to give their best.
To be a team player, the pitcher must support her teammates the way she would want to be supported. In other words, the pitcher acknowledges great plays made behind her. If she pitches a no-hitter, she gives credit to the catcher. When a teammate makes an error, the pitcher exhibits no more displeasure than what she wants to receive when she unintentionally gives up a walk. When a fielder has a bad day and really needs support, the pitcher should be the first to offer encouragement. The pitcher is the center of attention and should use her position to be a leader.