1) Goals of a Great Pen
Identify what you want to accomplish. Too many times pitchers will get on the mound and just “get their work in.” If a pitcher throws with no goal for the pen, he will not get the desired effect necessary for the next appearance. Whether it is mechanics or building a pitch count or working on command, make sure there is a plan and an emphasis for what is it the pitcher is trying to accomplish.
If you were to ask me what are the best routines or plans for a pen I would say:
1) Develop the delivery
2) Practice getting guys out and sequencing pitches and game situations (runners on base)
3) Pitch Development
4) Command and pitch execution.
Depending on the priority needs of the pitcher would dictate the plan of the pen.
2) Great Focus and Intensity
If you have a goal, you are half way home on this emphasis of focus and intensity. It is hard to have a successful pen if you are throwing at 50%. Good pens are at 80-90% of game speed and intensity. If you are working on a goal it needs to be close to game speed to be impactful. You are developed through practice and to be good in competition, you need to practice at competition speed or as close as you can get it. You also have to weigh the impact of the intensity and the physical effect the volume will have on your arm and performance. Sometimes it is ok just to get the feel of the mound under your feet and a little touch feel down the slope pen is good for the pitcher. Obviously this is not the big, higher pitch count pen typical of getting on the mound.
3) Number of Pitches
Possibly the biggest abuse of a great bullpen is that as a routine, pitchers throw too many consecutive pitches in their pens. Many pitchers throw more pitches in their pen then they would in any inning, or at least the innings they want to be great at. Limit your number of consecutive pitches to an inning-like amount (15-20). If you need more pitches then rest for 5-10 minutes, like a game, then throw another “inning”. Also, seldom in a game do pitchers throw many consecutive secondary pitches, 5-8 breaking balls in a row so let’s try to make pitching more game-like.
4) Game-like Pen Routine for Game Warm-Up
Good practice is practicing what you do in a game in practice. A great process goal, a goal that that can be controlled for the most part, is the pre-game warm-up routine. The routine in the bullpen can be rehearsed, practiced tweaked and modified to perfection. One of the most important fundamentals of a consistent performance is a consistent warm-up. One of the best tips I have received from a pitching coach is that the pre-game warm-up is not a “get loose” routine but a “get ready to pitch” routine, execute pitches and get ready to compete!
5) Practice Game Plays
A technique to be great during the game is to practice game plays. A pitch out, a flex step, stopping the runner on 2nd, step off with a runner on 1B, an intentional walk are game plays that can be practiced during the pen. By doing just one or two reps a pen and you will have confidence and no indecision in games executing these plays in games. Remember a little a lot, one rep a pen will make you great at executing the various plays in a game.
These 5 keys will help create bullpens that will enhance the skill level and give the pitcher the best chance for success when he pitches in the competitive environment of a baseball game.