How a starting pitcher spends the last few hours before a game can have a profound impact on how that pitcher performs. It is important to have a routine to get your mind and body ready to compete. There are many things to consider when developing a pregame routine but overall a starting pitcher needs to have a routine in which they can trust, have confidence, and find strength.
At the youth and high school level many pitchers simply run a few poles, do a couple of stretches, then begin to throw and end with a bullpen before they take the mound. This in no way is getting an athlete ready for competition. The circumstances surrounding every game are forever changing; hot or cold, unfamiliar stadium, more or less fans, the mound might be higher or lower or not taken care of correctly, and a pitcher’s “stuff” might be slightly off one day. A routine helps overcome these unforeseen obstacles by providing a source of consistency. [/]
Goals of the Routine
One major goal of a pre-game routine is to transition from a passive state to an active state (Faer, 2018). Studies have shown that completing a proper dynamic warm-up reduces a pitchers risk of injury and improves performance (Dawkins, 2015). At the youth level, many players walk onto the field after sitting in a classroom all day, on a bus after school, or in moms car on the way to the game. Rather than getting ready as fast as possible, it is important to prepare for the game in a controlled, progressive manner in order to feel ready.
A second major goal of the pregame routine is to kick-start the physiological response to activity (Faer, 2018). This means 1) increasing the core body temperature 2) increasing heart rate 3) redistributing the flow of blood to the working skeletal muscles and 4) priming the central nervous system to deliver outputs to the muscles as fast as possible.
A third goal of the routine is to prepare the mind to compete. Athletes can have off-field issues or other stressors that impact performance. A pregame routine helps to quiet this noise and put them in a state of competition. Preparing for a game in a quick 20-minute window and rushing through a warm-up only amplifies potential anxiety. Moving slowly from one step of a routine to the next and building up to the first pitch of the game limits distractions and helps pitchers perform up to their full potential.
The following routine is an example from one professional pitcher and should not be the same for everyone. This is simply to show the structure and some of the aspects that should be considered when developing ones own routine. The following example is based on a game that will start at 7:05pm at the professional level.
4:00pm – Arrive to Stadium
“On start day, the starting pitcher can arrive whenever they prefer so naturally, I like to sleep in, eat a late breakfast, hang out, watch some TV then head to the stadium.”
4:30pm – Eat and Play Cards
“I always pick up subway on my way to the field on my start day. When I arrive to the stadium I sit down with some teammates and play cards while I eat my sub. Sometimes its chess or Mario Cart but I like to keep it loose on start day and not dwell on the game too much before it starts.”
5:00pm – Nap
“After I finish my lunch and playing cards I like to find a quite place in the clubhouse where I can laydown and close my eyes for 20-30 minutes. During this time I might fall asleep or I might just lay there and relax.”
5:30pm – Enter Training Room
“After I get up from my nap I get dressed in the team issued shorts and shirt and walk into the training room for treatment. The treatment always varies based on how my body is doing. Generally, I like to sit in the warm tub for 8 minutes, dry off and get my full body stretched out by the training staff, and lastly, I heat and stem my arm.”
6:15pm – Begin Dynamic Warm-up in the Outfield
“Once I’m done in the training room I sit in my locker and get dressed for the game then I walk out the tunnel to the field and down the line to the fence where I begin my dynamic stretching, then J-Bands, and finish up with some plyo ball throws.”
6:30pm – Throw/Long-Toss with Catcher
“After I finish my dynamic, I like to take a seat and sip on some water to catch my breath and re-focus. This is really when I start to get locked in and change my mindset. I then begin to throw with my catcher in the outfield and typically will go back to around 300ish feet putting a lot of loft on the ball while I back it up. Then on the way back in I start to pull down and throw the ball on a line. Once I get to 60 feet I ask the catcher to get down and I throw a short flat ground. During the flat I throw about 3-4 of each pitch at about 80% effort. This concludes the throwing/long-toss portion of my warm-up routine. I then get another cup of water and take a set while I wait for the pitching coach to tell me when 6:45pm hits.
6:45pm – Bullpen
“When I get the go ahead from the pitching coach, I start with 3 step-behinds down the mound then I begin my bullpen. I am not too crazy about how many of each pitch or how many pitches I throw. I just want to feel loose and confident in my pitches. Generally, I like to start out of the stretch and throw 5 fastballs to both sides of the plate, then a few change-ups, then back to some fastballs, then a few sliders, then I go out of the windup for no more than 7-8 pitches and end with one simulated at-bat. So overall I don’t throw more than 20-25 pitches in the bullpen and it takes me less than 10 minutes to complete. This way I feel like I am fully primed and ready to go. Can’t forget that I get another 8 warm-up pitches once I take the mound.”
6:55pm – Sit and Drink Water in Dugout
After the bullpen, I dap up all the bullpen pitchers then get a towel from the pitching coach and walk back to the dugout with my catcher. We normally go over the signs during this walk and we sit together on the bench and review anything else we need to before we are announced and the national anthem begins.
7:05pm – First Pitch
After the National Anthem, I put my hat and glove on, take a knee at the back of the mound, close my eyes, take a deep breath, then step on the rubber and begin my 8 warm-up pitches, which are normally all fastballs with maybe 1 or 2 being an off-speed pitch depending on how the bullpen went. This concludes my entire pregame routine. Once I get the ball back from the catcher’s throw down I step back on the rubber and compete my butt off pitch by pitch, inning by inning.
As you can see, this pitcher has a relatively detailed idea of how he wants his start day to go. He knows when to move on from one activity to the next, and schedules the activities so he is not in a rush and can take his time. Everything is building up to the 7:05pm start time. He is fully primed and ready to compete by the first pitch. Have a routine, execute the routine, and trust the routine.
By James Keller
Ignite Baseball, Head of Pitcher and Cather Development