Bullpen Routine: Keeping Pitchers Sharp

Here’s a copy of the bullpen routines that we use for our pitchers.  This document was put together by our pitching coach, Mr. Ryan Bemont.  The “Base Bullpen” and “Short Bullpen” are the two that we use the most.  As well, we will modify these routines during the season as needed.  The modification is based on which pitcher needs to be penned and how often he has thrown.  For example, if we have a commonly used pitcher, we may use a modified short pen between starts just to stay sharp and focus on mechanics.  If it is a player that may not be throwing as much, the longer routines will come into play. The short pen is the primary routine used before a game.

FB= fastball

CU= change up

CV= curve

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Indoor Batting Cage Practice: Our Set-up Chart

Station #1:  Cage Sequence #1: 3-2-7-1 (track 3, 2 sacs, 7 cuts, 1 H&R)
Station #2:  Cage Sequence #2: 2-7-1 (2 sacs, 7 cuts, 1 H&R)
Station #3:  Cage Sequence #3: 2-8-1-1 (2 sacs, 8 cuts, 1 H&R, 1 Squeeze)
Station #4:  Cage Sequence #4: 2-6-1-1-1 (track 2, 6 cuts, 1 sac, 1 H&R, 1 Squeeze)
Station #5:  Cage Sequence #5: 1-NO ROCKS IN THE AIR!!!

                                                Drill List

1.        Vision Soft toss (No side or standing feeders)

2.        Launch & Drop (up the middle to opposite field)

3.        Battle with the paddle

4.        Battle with the paddle top hand

5.        Lite-Flite Bunt

6.        Launch

7.        Dot Drill

8.        Vision Tee

9.        High Tee

10.     Tee Walk-ups

11.     Hitting discs

12.     Front Toss Whiffle Balls

What you see above is basically the chart that is used during the season when we are stuck inside due to weather.  Our cage area has space limitations.  Therefore, we have to be creative utilizing the space that we have. This chart serves as a portion of a practice plan. It will be posted.  The players are placed into their hitting groups.  They should be able to look at the chart, understand where they should be, and what they are to do once they get there. It usually takes 2-3 three times for the players to totally understand the process, but when they get used to it, it’ll be like clockwork.

Here’s how the chart is used.  The top of the chart is a map that displays the numbered cage station areas. It also shows the direction in which the players are to rotate.  The table in the middle of the chart has Stations 1-5 listed.  The coach is to write in drills for each station from the drill list at the bottom. Then, the coach is to circle a cage sequence to be followed once any given hitting group rotates into the machine area of the cage. The whole team rotates when the group on the machine is done. There is no reason for any one on the team to be standing around. 

Everyone has a place to be and a purpose once they get there.  By planning ahead of time there is less wasted time and more time for the coaches to float around and work with hitters.  This is typically used in 45-60 minute session.  We try to get everyone to each station twice.  Each player should get between 100-125 cuts.  If a player gets less than that, it’s on them for not working hard enough.

Maximizing Practice for Infielders: 2 Fungo Drill with Cardio Conditioning

This drill has three purposes:

  1. Get as many ground balls as possible in a 15 minute span
  2. Incorporate a cardio conditioning aspect by running the balls to the bucket after successfully fielding it
  3. Be a low arm intensity drill (great for mid-season)

 Equipment and personnel needed:

  • 2 coaches with fungoes or regular bats
  • Line of players at each infield position
  • 4 buckets (1 with each coach (2), 2 placed on opposite sides of mound or circle)
  • minimum of 50 balls (25 on each side)

Drill Process:

  1. Coach #1, standing on the 3rd base side in foul territory, hits a ground ball to a player in the line of 2nd basemen.  That player fields the ball, runs to the bucket on the 1st base side of the mound, drops the ball in the bucket, and then sprints to the end of the line. Without hesitation, Coach #1 hits another ball to a player in the line of 1st basemen.
  2. Coach #2 does the same as Coach #1 except he hits to the lines at 3rd base and shortstop.  The only difference is that those players will drop the balls in the bucket on the 3rd base side of the mound.
  3. It is important for the coaches to call, “Last ball!!!” when he/she hits the last one in the bucket. That signals the player that fields it to switch buckets. The bucket nearest the mound should now be full. It needs to be carried to the coach. The empty bucket nearest the coach should be taken back to the area near the mound.  The whole process starts over again.

Hints:

  • I recommend keeping each line to three or four players at the most.  Any more than that and the players aren’t moving enough to get their heart rates up.
  • Be careful that you don’t hit the players that are carrying in buckets.
  • Mix up positioning of the coaches. On occasion place one coach at home plate hitting to the corners and the other coach just in front the rubber in order to hit to the middle infielders. This allows the middle infielders to work on double play flips after fielding ground balls (the receiver of the flip runs the ball to the bucket).  It will also allow the corner infielders to work in fielding bunts.
  • Make it a game. Each coach starts with the same amount of balls in his/her bucket.  A missed ball stays in the outfield.  After 15 minutes the side of the infield with the most balls left in their bucket wins.
  • Have players alternate lines in order to experince new positions.
  • Add 10 pushups for those that miss a ground ball.

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PUT YOUR PRACTICE PURPOSE IN PRINT: The Importance of a Practice Plan

By creating a practice plan you give your practice a framework. Putting it on paper gives a coach a few advantages over other coaches that just “keep it upstairs”. Ultimately, the guys that go off the top of their head might as well be dumped on their head because one look at their unorganized practice would make even a bush league team cringe. Some may say, “Big deal, you’re making a list.” Yes, but the list is as detailed as you want it to be. A good practice plan allows a coach to group his players more effectively, manage practice time better, and motivate his/her players more easily.

Baseball and softball are very skill specific sports. Breaking your team up into small groups based on position is essential. For example, if a coach really wants to work on double play pivots with his middle infielders, does the whole team have to be working on this skill? No! The outfielders could be working on their footwork. The catchers, pitchers, and corner infielders could be working on bunt coverage. By separating into groups an hour worth of drill time could be condensed into 20 minutes, thus, leaving more time for other coaching points. The coach without this sort of plan on paper might have the whole team working on pivots. What a waste for the 10 players that may never play 2nd base or shortstop. Even worse, this same coach may have those 10 non-middle infielders just watching.

I am also a big advocate of social grouping at practice. For instance, we break up into 3 to 4 small groups for batting practice. I am the one that determines what players are in which groups. If allow the players to group themselves, they would always end up with the same players based on the buddy system. Thus, they are never building bonds with their other teammates. As well, buddies are more likely to mess around when no one is looking. Of course, my players would never do that. Yeah, right. They sometimes don’t like the fact that I pick the groups, but this is not a democratic process.

Efficiency of time is of the utmost importance with the teenage mind. A practice plan gives your practice a steady flow and quick-moving feel. By placing a time limit on a portion of your practice, a coach can be sure not have that session run too long. It is imperative that the video game, ESPN highlight, music video trained minds in which we are dealing not be under-stimulated. When a session drags on it becomes uninteresting and ultimately counterproductive. The time limit will prevent that from happening. It’s OK to go a little over the set time limit, but most of the time you’re better off to move on to the next portion of practice and return to the dragging session another day. Next, it stops your practices from turning into 3-hour marathons. I feel that a complete practice with 12-18 year olds should rarely last longer than 1 hr. and  45 min. Anything longer than that becomes drudgery for players and coaches. Lastly, by saving the practice plan, a coach can make notes on it for use in developing the next day’s plan or for future seasons’ plans. I know a football coach that has 30 years of practice plans filed away. This may sound crazy, but it’s really not. He explained it to me like this, “Some years are better than others, I want to be able to go back and review what was working in practice during good seasons.”

A curriculum and instruction professor in college discussed “advanced organizers” with our class one day. He started the class by acknowledging the word “TEST” written on the chalkboard. Nothing more, nothing less was written on the board. Being 40 paranoid college students in the room, we were relieved when he did say something about it. Our anticipation of an upcoming exam or possibly a pop quiz had all of us on the edge of our seats. There was no test scheduled for a month. He went on to explain that our focus on him and class was at its height due to an advanced organizer. The word “TEST” was the advanced organizer. It gave a group advance notice of an upcoming event. This tool can be as specific or as vague as you want. In this case it was vague. If your practice plan is posted for your players to see, it can have the same effect. For example, many drills are used daily. If the specific drills are written on the plan, the players will know when to expect a drill change. The transition to the next session will go much smoother. Alternatively, a vague note will spark players’ interest about a portion of practice. For example, I like to include an occasional skill oriented game in my practice plan. Just by putting the word “game” as one session of your practice, your players will anticipate that session eagerly. They will also work harder in preceding sessions, not wanting to lose the opportunity to play the game.  

 Here’s an example practice plan:

practplan

No matter what age of players that you may be coaching, a written practice plan is essential. Another good friend of mine says it like this, “KTSB”. That means “Keep Them Suckers Busy”. The plan eliminates idle time. Idle time leads to unnecessary distractions. Plan everything even down to the water breaks and the length of that break. If you plan for a three-minute water break, it will last three minutes or less. We’ve all seen practices and that the short water break turns into a 10 or 12 minute bull session. Well, if may not seem like a big deal, but in reality that could turn out be 10 to 12% of your practice time. What a waste! By planning for the rest periods at practice, announcing the length of the rest periods when they come, and sticking to that time, you’ll be much happier when the team transitions back to work mode. You’ll find that your team leaders, knowing that the break lasts only lasts a predetermined amount of time, will be back on the field ready to go before they actually need to be.

Nothing is cooler than having a player tell you that they really enjoy your practices, because the time goes so fast. Pace is everything. The trick is to mix pace with purpose. Chocking a practice plan full of activities for the sake of filling time is not the point. As a coach, you are a teacher. Each practice (or class) has a goal. Is it introduction of a new skill? Review? Quiz?

Lastly, I love hearing horror stories about the bad behavior of players. “Wait ‘til you get this kid. She/he is a real handful.” Or “That kid never practices hard.” As coaches we need to thrive on that challenge. Providing a quickly paced, skill filled, purposeful practice on a daily basis will typically meet that challenge head on. If you decide to wing it, without writing out a plan, you asked for it. The problem kid will eat you up, just like all of the other chumps that tried to work with that kid and couldn’t get it done.

Baseball Pitching Drill: “3 Hops”

pitching3hopsdrill

I really like this drill for players ages 12 and up.  This comes with one reservation. If the player can not hold a balanced knee lift for 7-10 seconds, this drill is probably a bit too advanced.  For me, a balanced knee lift is defined as the knee lifted towards the rear armpit so the the upper leg is parallel to the ground or higher with the weight gathered over the back foot.  Meanwhile, the player needs to be able to do this with out tilting his shoulders back in order to maintain balance. If that is the case, then the player should simply work on getting to that position, being able to hold it & repeat. Only then, is the “3 hops” drill is appropriate.

This drill is outstanding for players to develop body control and core strength.  Ultimately, we want the pitcher to be able the control balance throughout  the hops. If the player loses balance at any point prior to the 3rd hop, he should stop and begin again, as opposed to finishing the rep in an incorrect manner. After the last hop, it’s imperative that you pay attention to foot strike as the player throws the ball. It should still be initiated on the in-step ball of foot and with weight 75-80% back, just as it should as if the pitcher were throwing a pitch without the hops.  The foot should land slightly closed, not pointing directly at the target in order to prevent premature hip rotation. One goal of the drill is to be able to maintain good mechanics despite the hops, not create a bad habit, such as, landing heavy on the front foot.  Thus, one variation you may want to try is to have the pitcher freeze at foot strike after the 3rd hop without actually throwing the ball. Then, check for proper foot strike and ball position. Lastly, I suggest starting to teach this drill on flat ground.  Then, move up to the mound. This will increase the player’s chance of success with the drill.

Initially, I like to include verbal cues with this drill. Such as:

  1. “Ready” (starts in stretch position)
  2. “Balance” (make sure they’re here before 1st hop is cued)
  3. “Hop, Hop, Hop” (1/2 second between hops) 
  4. “Go!” (meaning throw)

As the player becomes accustomed to the drill.  The coach should reduce the verbal cues and allow the player to self-coach and pace himself.  Finally at mastery, you should be able to have your more disciplined players do this drill on the side as part of a bullpen session on his own. Lastly, don’t be afraid to bring the player(s) back to basics with the verbal cues from the coach.

Baseball & Softball: Throwing Progression for Accuracy & Arm Strength “Playing Catch the Right Way”

IMG_0222One question that I get all the time is, “My son or daughter’s arm needs to get stronger. What can I do?”

Well, I really think it depends on age. For players ages 5-11, I say…… “Mechanics, Mechanics, Mechanics”. Learning to use larger muscle groups more effectively is the key.  This is difficult, because much of it requires balance and core strength, which the majority of these players ages 5-11 have very little. Teaching concepts, such as:

  1. Getting weight on the balls of their feet prior to throwing
  2. Weight slightly back
  3. Reaching back and showing the ball as if someone was standing behind them. This is especially difficult with girls because they really have to fight “big ball, little hands”. I saw it when my daughter first picked up an 11″ ball, from playing with a 9″ baseball in t-ball. Then I saw it again this year when she transitioned into a league that uses a 12″ ball.
  4. Eyes on target. I like to tell kids to pick a spot in their partners glove the size of a dime, see it, and throw to it.
  5. Step with the glove-side foot towards the target. Although, I suggest refraining from telling them to “point their toe at their partner”. I believe that this eventually promotes players, especially future pitchers, to landing heavy (too much weight forward).  Focus on getting the whole leg and foot  going towards the target in a soft, but aggressive manner.
  6. Extend the previous step by teaching a crow hop to help smaller bodies use momentum.
  7. Getting elbows “equal & opposite” distance from each other after separation.
  8. Release ball in front and let arm follow through after release. I like to tell kids to “waive good-bye”.
  9. Finish with a “clean glove-side”. This simply means allowing the glove-side elbow to collapse as the throwing arm comes through its motion. When the glove-side elbow remains stiff , the glove will finish below the waist.  Often times this will lead to players losing accuracy, usually high.
  10. Lastly, make sure that their “playing catch” partners provide a good chest high target. You should emphasize that recievers of throws have their thumbs together at chest level in order to help their partner.

For older players (ages 12 & beyond) here’s a typical throwing progression that  I’ve used:

Daily Throwing or “Playing Catch” Progression

  1. On Knees; place throwing elbow on glove at chest high & elbow up; allow  upper to remain still & only bend elbow and release the ball; make sure hand extends downward after release (hand should not look like it’s throwing darts); possibly use a ball with one ring of tape around it in order to emphasize proper rotation; 8-12′ apart; 10-12 reps.
  2. Flat Footed Facing Partner; emphasize “equal & opposite” elbows & “clean glove-side”; Twist torso; 15-25′ apart;  10-12 reps.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  3. Glide (Transfer weight on balls of feet);   place feet on target line at a distance as thought they’ve already strided the glove-side foot to throw; opposite foot position of the previous step; rock forward-back-forward while maintaining the nose over the belly button; release ball to partner on 2nd forward movement; 20-30′ apart ; 8-10 reps.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  4. Step & Throw (separation & strike point); Basically, just like #5 listed above ; now emphasize glove-side foot landing on the in-step ball of foot at about a 45 degree angle; 40-60′ apart based on age & strength; 10-15 reps.
  5. Step Behinds; baseball pitchers only; for balance & target line; start in a stretch position; back foot steps behind front foot towards target; knee lift towards rear armpit & throw; great chance to work on touch pitches like change-ups; 45-60′ apart; 10-15 reps
  6. Long-toss; gradually moving back from each other; using crow hops; emphasize “no rainbows”; straight throws as if they were an outfielder throwing through a cut-off man; the highest a ball should get is twice the players height; get to a distance where partners are one hopping each other; 100-130′ apart based on age & strength; 5-7 reps.
  7. Run Daily; Running helps the arm recover.

On a regular basis, players need to do more than “loosen up”.  To often this “loosening up” time ends up being a social session for not only the players, but also the coaches. Thus, this allotted time usually lasts longer than necessary with no goal in mind. Arms need to get stronger as the season progresses.  Be patient. In turn, keep an eye on your team. If you’ve played 6 games in 5 days. It may be wise to have a light arm day. Rest is necessary. That’s you have your team “loosen up” with 5 minutes as the maximum, or do not throw at all.

Please click below and visit my poll on pitch counts. I want your opinion. Please vote!!!

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/pitchcounts-baseball/