With the baseball season in full swing, we have been getting lots of questions about pregame and practice bullpens. Creating a proper bullpen routine can help players gain confidence, throw fewer pitches during a game, build endurance, and overall, be more prepared for each appearance. With pitch counts being implemented across the board in little league and high school, the need for pitchers to be more efficient on the mound during game time is a necessity.
During the winter training season, we poll our pitchers and ask how many pitches they throw in a typical practice bullpen and a pregame bullpen. The answers we receive are always a staggering low number of throws ranging from 20-30 pitches. We then ask how many times pitchers notoriously struggle in the first inning and throw near perfect games in innings two through four, should they even get that far. Those answers are always high. Players recall walking several batters, giving up a couple runs, and not having their “A+ stuff” to start the game.
Lack of time is another excuse players use for not throwing a quality pregame bullpen. Pitchers are often taking batting practice, getting in a few more ground balls, or waiting for the catcher to complete infield practice. Starting pitchers have to ask themselves what is more important: Do I want to be ready to pitch when the umpire says playball? or Do I need to “practice” more before the first pitch? If pitchers are not able to throw strikes at the beginning of the game, all the practice in the world won’t help a team get off the field so they can pick up their bats and hit!
While the number of throws in our bullpen may surprise you, it will benefit players to throw more pitches in their bullpens than to throw 20 to 40 pitches in their 1st inning of the game. Also, keep in mind that each pitcher is different and may require different routines. Experimenting with various routines and pitch totals in the bullpen will help pitchers understand what they need to be prepared to compete.
A pitcher’s pregame routine should be developed as a result of their last pitching appearance. The number of in-game pitches thrown during a pitcher’s last performance will dictate how much rest a pitcher will need leading up to their next start or appearance. Eating, hydrating, and sleeping should also be considered while deciding how a pitcher prepares for his/her next pitching appearance.
Click here to read about C.J. Wilson’s Routine while he was with the Rangers.
Timing is everything
The first time a pitcher throws a ball should not be in the bullpen. An interval throwing routine of both short and longer tosses after the cardio, stretching, and band work should be integrated.
**Note** Warming up to throw is different than throwing to warmup. Position players, as well as Pitchers, should have a thorough warm up routine that consists of cardio work, dynamic and static stretching, and a J-band routine prior to picking up a ball or bat.
Click on this article to view the timing of the pregame routine of Cincinnati Reds pitcher Edison Volquez
Knowing how much time a pitcher needs to properly warmup and throw “x” amount of pitches should be taken in to consideration on game days. Practicing this routine on non-game days is also essential towards preparing properly for game days. Pitchers should start throwing their pregame bullpen 20-30 minutes before the game starts. This allows 5-10 minutes for pitchers to cool down slightly prior to taking the field.
Once the pitcher is in the bullpen, their first few pitches should not be from full distance. We recommend a min of 10 throws – from flat ground with the catcher squatting – as great preparation before getting on the mound.
Once on the mound, pitchers should begin with 20-24 fastball tosses. These pitches are not thrown at 100%. A mixture of boxes, tilts, and opposites, along with throwing from the windup and stretch positions will help pitchers explore all aspects of the strike zone, and introduce both throwing motions that pitchers will use during games. The 20-24 pitches also simulates one inning of work.
After throwing fastballs, pitchers should rest for 2-3mins. This helps to break up the bullpen into two segments and allows pitchers to “take a breath” between throwing fastballs and offspeed pitches.
**If pitchers are not throwing offspeed pitches this is a good opportunity to throw another 10-16 fastballs. This also helps to simulate throwing a second inning of work.**
If pitchers are throwing offspeed pitches we recommend throwing:
Change-ups 6-10 reps (3/5 inside & 3/5 outside)
Cut-Fastballs 6-10 reps (3/5 inside & 3/5 outside)
Curveballs 6-10 reps (3/5 for K’s & 3/5 in dirt)
Entering the game
When the bullpen is over, pitchers should have a 5-10 mins window prior to the start of the game to relax and think. Pitchers should not rush from the bullpen to the mound for the first inning. Leaving 5-10 mins before taking the mound allows a pitcher to go sit in the dugout, hydrate, and discuss the first inning approach…….and oh yeah, breathe!!
**If you are the visiting team the bullpen can end about 5 minutes prior to the first pitch of the home team.**
We highly recommend practicing this routine prior to implementing this as a regular pre-game bullpen. Integrating the maximum reps of this routine as an in-between practice bullpen will help players acclimate the number of throws needed to prepare for games.
**Having pitchers only throw 20-pitches in practice bullpens only prepares them to be 20 pitch-pitchers. Lengthening practice bullpen routines to 40, 50, or 60 pitches helps to develop the endurance pitchers need to throw longer in the game. Separating the bullpen into 20-pitch segments helps to simulate the number of pitches that pitchers will throw per inning. **
Do you have concerns about a bullpen routine? Contact us so we can help to develop the best plan of attack for your pitchers.