Today was a bullpen day to get pitchers ready for our double-header scrimmage with St. Cloud State University on Saturday. We were each scheduled to throw one inning or 15 pitches, whatever came first. And today for me, that was the latter.
I was scheduled to throw in the middle of the scrimmage, so I had some time before I had to warm up when we got to the field. After running and stretching I played some light catch with one of the other pitchers just to get my shoulder to feel loose. After that it was time to take pregame infield and outfield while the starting pitcher got warm. During I/O as its called, pitchers take turns covering first base on ground balls hit to the right side of the infield. After going through our complete pregame routine, it was scrimmage time.
The first pitchers took the mound, and everything was flowing smoothly. I stood behind the batting cage and helped with keeping strike percentage and average velocity for fellow pitchers as they threw. As time neared towards my inning I started to get ready to pitch by playing catch with the pitcher that would throw after me. As it came time to start to throw off the mound in the bullpen I could not find a catcher. We have three catchers on our team, and all of them were unavailable. One catcher was catching in the scrimmage, one was on base after getting a hit, and the other was currently playing left field. I felt an almost sense of panic when I realized I would not be able to begin warming up in the bullpen until the next inning started, and if the pitcher before me had a quick 1-2-3 inning, I might not be loose in time to take the mound.
Once I finally found a catcher I started to frantically warm up, and as I feared the pitcher before me had a great inning. I was able to get my arm loose to pitch, but I didn’t take the time to get my mind locked in to execute pitches. As someone that has struggled with control in the past, it is key for me to get my mind locked in and focused. Concentration is the biggest key to executing successful pitches.
I took the mound and delivered my warm up pitches trying to get my mind in the right place. As always the warm up pitches go quick, and the first hitter steps in. The first batter I faced is a returning all conference player, one that hit .410 last season from the left side. I know that as a left-handed pitcher, if I do not get one of the starting rotation spots, that I need to prove that I can dominate left-handed hitters as a reliever. My first fastball sailed up and in for ball one. The second pitch was a good down-in-the-zone fastball, which Lippy dropped the barrel on, but could not get enough of it to drive the other way, and became a pop up victim to the left fielder. The second hitter, a right-handed stick, worked the count to 3-2 before I left a fastball low and away and walked him. I hate walks, instant frustration. One pitch can still get me out of this unscathed. The next hitter also worked the count to 3-2, but couldn’t get the bat on a fastball and struck out swinging. The final batter watched a first pitch curve ball over the middle of the plate for strike two, then watched a fastball for ball two. On the 2-2 count I threw what I felt was a great curve ball that the catcher caught in the heart of the plate. But I’m not the umpire, and our collection of coaches overwhelmingly decided that the pitch had curved around the plate. On 3-2 another fastball was lost low and away and the hitter walked. How can you walk two guys in an inning? You need to be battling with a full count. I was frustrated with myself, and to make matters worse I didn’t get the opportunity to finish the inning off, that walk came on pitch number 15.
I wanted to finish off the inning, but had to understand that this was simply a bullpen session to get ready to pitch on Saturday. I got my final statistics for the session. 15 pitches, six strikes, nine balls for just a 40% strike percentage. Not good. Now I was really down, but I didn’t have much time to be down. My coach called me over and said TK wanted to work with me in the bullpen. (TK is Tom Kelly, former manager of the Minnesota Twins, World Series Champion 1987 and 1991). TK took me to the bullpen and said that I needed to make one minor adjustment to get my consistency in the strike zone back. He said I was rushing a little bit today and not staying on my backside, especially with runners on base. I threw maybe ten pitches in the pen with TK and he had plenty to say about each one. He is a perfectionist, and he had me throw until I had the ball on a downward plane, hitting the glove on the bottom of the zone, and repeat it. Once I did it twice in a row just how he wanted, he told me that now I understand what it is that I am doing and how to fix it. I will definitely be implementing that and working on it before Saturday’s outing. Having TK there is awesome, because there are very few people that know as much about baseball as he does, and he is always looking to teach and share what he knows.
So even though I didn’t have the outing that I expect of myself, I got to understand things I need to work on and improve myself as a pitcher. Now I just have to put in the work to make the adjustments and put them into action on Saturday against SCSU. I still am throwing 57% strikes this fall through 95 in-game pitches. I really would like to get that number back up to 60% or better, which mean in the three fall outings I have left I need to pound the zone. So that is the goal for the rest of fall, get my total strike percentage to 60%. Anything less will simply not be acceptable as I try and reach my goal as a weekend starter.
Never stop working towards goals and dreams.