Concentration during a game is a basic ingredient to good pitching. Bruin pitchers get into the habit of concentration by using a strict bullpen routine at practices. The Bruin catcher supervises and conducts the routine so that the pitcher is always concentrating on each pitch. The routine is divided into several stages, and the pitcher must achieve the goal in each stage before advancing to the next stage.
The routine is divided into the following stages:
a) Twenty change of pace pitches to warm-up;
b) "3-in-a-row" low-away strikes with the fastball'
c) Two high-tight hard fastballs;
d) "3-in-a-row" curves;
e) "3-in-a-row" sliders;
f) "1-2-3" or "1-2-3-4" (Fastball-Curve-Change; or Fastball-Curve-Slider-Change) from stretch with 2b occupied (Once each);
g) Pitch-out to RH batter (twice) and LH batter (twice);
h) "Win or Lose" (fastball or best pitch for a strike on 3 and 2 count with bases loaded).
1. The first stage begins with the pitcher throwing from the rubber while his catcher starts from a position about 10' in front of the plate. From this position the pitcher throws 20 changes to his catcher.
The catcher gradually backs-up to his normal position behind the plate while the pitcher finishes throwing a few change-ups knee high: The pitcher now begins warming up for his fastball. He can repeat the same sequence to ensure that he is ready to move on. The catcher may stand up as the pitcher warms-up, but when the pitcher says, "I'm ready" the catcher must go down on one knee or in a crouch and give his pitcher a low-away target.
2. The pitcher is now ready to play "3-in-a-row" with his fastball. The pitcher tries to throw his fastball in the low-away strike zone. After the pitcher has thrown three fastballs in a row in the designated area, the pitcher can advance to the next stage (the catcher is the "umpire" and an extremely critical one.)
The purpose of the "3-in-a-row" drill is simple—to get the pitcher concentrating on the low-away strike. The toughest pitch to hit for most batters in the low-away strike. Hence, the pitcher must be able to hit this spot consistently with his fastball in order to be most effective.
Generally, the pitchers are instructed to throw their fastball with the seams or across the narrow portion of the seams (not across the wide part of the seams) when going for a low location. This will add more movement to the ball and help it to sink. Only on pitch-outs or high-tight fastballs should a pitcher hold a ball across the wide part of the seams. We involve the intricacies of throwing fastballs with movement versus straight fastballs to right handed and left handed batters later in a pitchers development.
3. The third stage of the routine is for the pitcher to throw two high-tight hard fastballs. Anytime a pitcher throws the ball up he must make sure he puts as much "smoke" or "heat" on the pitch as possible. Do not throw more than two high hard ones during the routine—become proficient with the low-away fastball first, since that is the fastball you will be using at least 70% of the time. The high hard one can be useful for keeping the hitter "honest" and if a pitcher sets-up the hitter properly, he may be able to "blow" the high-tight hard one past the hitter.
4. The fourth stage is "3-in-a-row" with the curve ball. But, before the pitcher begins the game with his catcher he should work on his curve ball rotation and delivery. The catcher should help him on this and should move in front of home plate a few feet while observing the pitcher's curve and delivery. The pitcher is actually warming-up and preparing for the game of "3-in-a-row" with his curve.
After the pitcher and catcher are satisfied with the delivery and rotation and after the pitcher is sufficiently warmed up for the curve, the catcher will retreat back to his normal crouched position, and give a low target. When the pitcher feels he is ready to play "3-in-a-row" with his curve he tells the catcher, "I'm ready" and the game begins. Once again, the pitcher tries to throw each pitch in the low-away strike zone, this time with the curve ball. The catcher now becomes umpire and judge—he does not give credit for a poor breaking curve even if it enters the zone. Pitchers must be careful not to "choke" their curve or aim it so much that they lose the looseness in their wrist that is required on a good breaking pitch. After the pitcher has been successful with "3-in-a-row" with his curve, he can go to the fifth stage of the routine.
5. This stage will vary with each pitcher based on if, and what, their fourth pitch is. For a pitcher who does not have a slider, forkball or knuckler, his next stage in the routine will be to play "1-2-3" with his fastball—curve—change. If a pitcher does use a fourth pitch, he should play "3-in-a-row" with that pitch, just as he did with his curve and fastball, including the same "warm-up" procedure with the catcher checking his delivery and rotation.
6. This stage of the routine is called "1-2-3" or "1-2-3-4." From his wind-up, the pitcher throws his fastball first and at the low-away strike zone. If the pitch is in the area and the catcher is satisfied with the pitch, the catcher returns the ball to his pitcher and says, "Two". That means the pitcher can move on to his next pitch the curveball, #2. If the catcher is not pleased with the first pitch he returns the ball to the pitcher and says, "One", meaning the pitcher must repeat the same pitch. In any case, the pitcher should get into the habit of repeating the number yelled by the catcher so as not to "cross-up" the catcher. We don't want our catchers getting hurt in the bullpen.
If the pitcher only uses a fastball, curve, and change; the third pitch in the game of "1-2-3" will be the change. If the pitcher, however, does use a slider or some other pitch besides his fastball and curve, he will play "1-2-3-4" with the third pitch being his "other pitch" and his fourth pitch being the change.
7. The pitcher and catcher play the game "1-2-3" or "1-2-3-4" for two rounds from the wind-up; one round from the stretch with an imaginary runner on first base; and one round from the stretch with an imaginary runner on second base. Catchers and pitchers should eventually work together to vary locations on each of their pitches, working on both the actual location, but also good effective combinations to get batters out.
8. The pitcher and catcher should work together on the pitcher's stretch move—the catcher should especially keep the pitcher on his toes by reminding him to vary the number of head turns, counts before delivery after coming set, heights of leg kick, etc.
9. Depending on how long a pitcher is to throw, the bullpen routine can be abbreviated or lengthened by adding more rounds to the game of "1-2-3" or "1-2-3-4".
10. The next to last stage of the bullpen routine is the "pitch-out". The pitcher, griping the ball across the wide part of the seams (4-seamer) and throwing from his stretch, throws two pitch-outs to an imaginary left-handed batter and two pitch-outs to an imaginary right-handed batter. (It should be noted that it is always a good idea to have a batter standing at the plate—switching from one side to another—during the bullpen routine. Any teammate can be used, including another pitcher).
The pitcher and catcher work on the timing of their pitch-outs as well as accuracy with the pitch which should be chest high and about two or three feet outside.
11. The final stage of the bullpen routine is called "Win or Lose." In an imaginary situation with the bases loaded, score tied, last inning, and the count three and two on the hitter, the pitcher must throw a fastball, or his "best" pitch, for a strike to "win." The pitcher is challenging the hitter in this situation with his best pitch in the middle of the strike zone. If the pitch is not a strike the pitcher must try again, repeating the procedure until he throws a strike for a "win."
The pitcher, after throwing the strike is now permitted to leave the bullpen?a winner.
The Bruin Bullpen Routine is usually not be used in its exact form to warm-up for a game performance. However, a pitcher should use the basic principles from the routine, so warms up not only his arm, but his concentration as well. The bullpen routine is a valuable tool for the coach in evaluating his pitchers. In most cases, a pitcher who performs the Bruin Bullpen Routine efficiently will be respectable in the game situation also. Rarely am I reluctant to use a pitcher who performs the bullpen routine well on a consistent basis. Since the inception of the routine several years ago, I have seen those that have consistently performed well in the pen carry-over their performance in the games. On the other hand, those who fail in the pen will almost always fail in the game. For this reason, this is a useful drill for the coach. He can use the bullpen as a testing ground and he doesn't have to lose a game by using an "untested" pitcher. In the past, pitchers have asked me why they don't get a chance to pitch in games and I've replied, "When you can win in the pen against nobody, then you'll be ready to win in the game against somebody".
Finally, the player will benefit from performing in the bullpen as well. Knowing that he has the control to get through the bullpen routine will give him confidence in game situations.