To be successful, pitchers must learn to pursue perfection

SIDELINES

July 29, 1992|By Pat O'Malley

Pitching is a science not easily perfected. In fact, it probabl never has been, and never will be, perfected -- there are too many ways to fail.

Not even a living legend, 45-year old Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers, has perfected the craft. The eternal flamethrower has posted a major-league record seven no-hitters and over 5,600 strikeouts, but his won-loss record is just over .500.

In 26 seasons in the big show, Ryan has 319 victories, good for 12th on the all-time list. But for most of his career, he has been a .500 pitcher.

Ryan's vast experience and knowledge has enabled him to identify the many ways of pursuing perfection. Young kids today need to learn those ways, and learn that pitching is more than just blowing the baseball by hitters.

Let's take a trip through the pitcher's textbook and show you the essentials of being successful as you move from level to level.

Everything begins with the man on the mound.

These days, kids start by playing T-ball, then move to coach-pitch and Pinto (ages 8-9) and Mustang (ages 9-10), where they face their peers' pitching.

As the kids progress up the ladder to the high school-age teams, it's important to have the basics. Those basics include proper form and delivery, plus control and poise.

Having a clue at a young age how to set up hitters -- using both sides of the plate, moving the ball up and down, in and out, etc. -- and learning to change speeds can be very beneficial as a kid starts to mature.

Often, physical maturity coupled with an over-the-top delivery can result in good velocity for a young pitcher. Velocity is what attracts the college and pro scouts and catches the eye of your high school coach.

When you can combine velocity with movement, your future gets brighter -- as you move up the age ladder, there comes a time when more than simply speed is necessary. The good and more advanced hitters can handle the heat, but not necessarily the heat that tails or rises.

A young pitcher must be able to throw strikes consistently. Most amateur, high school and college games are lost on pitchers who walk people and a defense that can't make the plays. In other words, many of the games are lost, not won, and the pitcher is the central figure.

After Little League, the art of pitching becomes more intricate. Those who strive to learn all they can about pitching, even the little things, are the ones who succeed.

As a pitcher matures, the mental aspects become just as important as the physical. In fact, the mental and physical traits must mesh to generate success.

The older pitcher must be able to throw three pitches (usually fast ball, curve and change) in the strike zone over 50 percent of the time.

Ask yourself: Do you throw each of your pitches at least 15 to 20 percent of the time? Can you throw two of your pitches in the zone over 65 percent of the time?

You've got to be able to change speeds with your fast ball and breaking ball, depending on the count or situation.

As you move up the ladder, warming up properly becomes more TC important. Some pitchers need more time than others; it is imperative each individual set his own pace. One of the worst things that can happen is to go out there and get shelled in the first inning because you didn't warm up long enough.

Talk about warming up with your coach and catcher. Make sure you are ready on the first pitch, not in the second inning. Don't be one of those who has bad first innings, then settles down and is tough the rest of the way -- only to look back and say you lost

the game in the first frame.

You've got to be aggressive and go right after each hitter. It helps to be able to throw your best pitch in the strike zone 80 percent or more of the time.

Know who is up and who is on deck. Consider whether you can pitch around someone to get to another hitter. It's all part of being a thinking pitcher.

Pitchers also have to field their position. A successful hurler is one who can field a routine ground ball and throw to any base for an out. That includes getting off the mound to go after bunts or high hoppers.

A big question along those lines: Do you know your team's bunt defenses? Can you start a double play with a good throw, or do you worry about ensuring you make one? You have to know which out you need most, and not hesitate before throwing to a particular base.

A pitcher must hustle to back up the proper base and not jog over as the play develops. A good pitcher has to be a quarterback on occasion, helping his catcher and infielders on pop-ups, or letting his catcher know where a wild pitch or passed ball has gone.

With men on base, you can't afford to forget the runners and give them free bases. Many a base is stolen on the pitcher and not the catcher.

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