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Preparing to Win: Pre-game Pitching Routine

Preparing to Win: Pre-game Pitching Routine

By: Banks Faulkner

One of the most important ingredients to a pitcher’s success is having a solid pre-game routine. In this article, I will discuss the pre-game routine I use with my pitchers at Gilbert High School. 

The starting pitcher’s pre-game routine begins one hour prior to game time. Our starting pitcher will go through his stretching routine with the rest of the baseball team. He will stretch his entire body completely. After stretching, he returns to the dugout and finds a quiet place to relax. During this time I want our starting pitcher to begin focusing on the game at hand. Some of them choose to listen to their music during this time. Others will just chat with our starting catcher. It is during this time I want them to start visualizing the game they are about to pitch. I want them to see themselves being successful and pitching a great game. It is almost like making a movie with them as the star performer. This time is all about building their confidence and getting focused on the game they are about to pitch.

Approximately thirty minutes prior to game time, we begin the next stage of our pre-game routine. I have our pitcher jog from foul pole to centerfield and back. I will run some guys more than others depending on the temperature and other circumstances. I like for them to get a good sweat going during this time. We then go to our tubing routine, which consists of about seven exercises designed to loosen/warm-up the throwing arm. Next, we do our body blade workout. This is something new we are doing this year and all my pitchers love it. We move from the body blade to stretching our throwing arm. We are now ready to begin throwing.

Our warm-up throwing program lasts anywhere between 6-9 minutes. Some of our pitchers will take longer to warm up than others.  I will simply allow more time for their warm-up. We throw to around 120 feet on a line. I like for my guys to make ten throws at 120 feet before they are finished. One thing we do when we throw past 90 feet is move our feet. This takes stress off of our throwing arm that is added when long throwing. I teach our pitchers to go toe to toe with their shoulders square to their partner. I do not like my guys to crow hop or go behind as this can cause their upper body to over-rotate. When we finish long throwing, we move in to 70-75 feet and throw our change-up. I like this drill because it forces my pitchers to keep the same arm speed with their change-up as they do with their fastball. We normally throw 10-12 of these. It is now time to hit the bullpen!

When going to the bullpen to warm up, I will usually give my starting pitcher a couple short reminders about his mechanics. I try to limit mechanical talk to no more than two things during gameday. Practice is the time to worry about mechanics. We begin by warming up from 50 feet. We throw 5-7 pitches from the stretch just to get loose and adjusted to being on a mound. Once loose, we begin our pre-game bullpen. There are a few things I stress that I want to achieve with our pre-game bullpen. The primary thing I want to do is establish throwing the fastball to spots and leaving with at least one off-speed pitch we can throw for strikes. I also want to see how much the fastball is running and how much break is on off-speed pitches so we can adjust reference points as needed.

We begin by throwing all our pitches in sets of three to the middle of the plate. Here, we are working on the pitch only and not location. Next we begin locating our pitches. It is very important to simulate game situations with your pre-game bullpen. For example, if I am going to ask my pitcher to throw a fastball chin high in the game he must practice making that pitch in the bullpen. A player or I will stand in as a batter when we begin locating. We work in sets of two to begin with and move to throwing all pitches to all locations. We also work out of both the stretch and the wind-up. When I feel comfortable that the starting pitcher is commanding the strike zone I will let him throw whatever he wants. This allows the pitcher time to work on something he may not be as confident in and leave the bullpen confident in himself and his pitches. 

When the bullpen is finished, I remind our pitcher to make sure he drinks plenty of water. I stress being aggressive in the first inning and setting a tone for the game. I want my guys to get back in the dugout as quickly as possible in the first inning.

As you can see, our pre-game routine is very detailed and structured. I feel it is crucial to any pitcher’s success to be ready from the first pitch. Not being ready and spotting a team two early runs can come back to haunt you. A solid pre-game routine also gives the starting pitcher confidence to go out and perform at a high level. When a pitcher feels prepared, there are usually fewer butterflies and worries.

Finally, one important thing to remember is to be flexible in your pre-game routine. While the routine is virtually the same for the most part, adjust as needed with your pitchers. I give each of our starting pitchers a great deal of freedom within this pre-game routine to do what makes them comfortable. No matter how well I may think I know them, they still know themselves more than I do.

About the author: Banks Faulkner is in his third year as the pitching coach for Gilbert High School. The 1999 Lexington High grad played at Erskine College for two years before graduating from Clemson University. Prior to his stint at Gilbert, he spent one year apiece coaching at Walhalla (2004) and Lexington (2005). Faulkner spends his summer and fall as a coach for the Palmetto Sand Gnats 17U team.