The bullpen is where pitchers are made. For some reason, over the past several decades, Coaches and Parents have made their kids misunderstand the meaning of a bullpen. A bullpen is not where you build velocity, sorry to shock everyone.
A bullpen is the most game-like simulation available as a tool for pitchers. It is vital that as pitchers we understand how to use this valuable tool to our advantage, and not let it ruin our mechanics from the inside out. Pitchers have to understand just how much they can get out of their bullpen sessions.
The first purpose of a bullpen is to find your rhythm down the 10 inch slope of the mound. Most amateur pitchers have a lot of trouble taking what they do on the flat ground, to the mound. The reason that amateur pitchers cannot take what they do on the flat ground to the mound is because of the change in natural rhythm. This change in natural rhythm is caused by the slope. This is why at Core Savvy Baseball we recommend that you throw no more than 3 bullpens a week. Remember, the baseball throw is an unnatural motion which puts a ton of stress on our shoulder, so we need to preserve it as long as we can. The slope adds a lot more stress to your shoulder even with healthy mechanics. At CSB, we teach all of our pitchers to get the most out of this limited time on the mound.
The second purpose of a bullpen is to build confidence in all of you're pitches. This sounds simple, but is a very difficult concept for young players to understand. Building confidence in you’re pitches does not mean throw everything as hard as you can. What building confidence in the bullpen means is learning how to throw our pitches with conviction. When we throw our pitches with conviction, the result is always good. When we throw our pitches with conviction, we will naturally release the ball later, giving us fantastic driven tilt on all our pitches. When we try to "aim" our pitches instead of throwing them with conviction, we will be having a snowball fight with our catcher (wild pitches).
The third and final purpose of a bullpen is to have a purpose. What we mean by “have a purpose”, is to find a consistent routine that you execute. This routine must be executed with a locked-in approach every time you step on the hill. What having a routine in the bullpen will do is make the transition into the adrenaline of the actual game a lot easier. We must go into our bullpen sessions with a purpose.
The first thing we teach all of our students is full body warmup. This is an essential part of a bullpen session. To maximize you're potential every time you get on the mound you have to understand how to get your muscles warm. The three major parts that you have to make sure are warm before you start you’re bullpen are you’re legs, core and torso/back. The exercises we recommend for warming up these parts of the body are simple exercises you have done your entire life. To warm up our legs, a great exercise is a set of sprints. To warm up your core correctly we recommend you do a couple of sets of sit-ups or medicine ball work. If you decide to do the medicine ball work to get your core warm, pick a light weight to make sure you do not strain abdominal muscles. Finally, to warm up your torso and back we teach all of our students to do variations of pushups.
All pitchers should begin their bullpen by warming up on flat ground down either the right or left field line. While warming up on flat ground their should be no leg kick. The catcher during this time should be standing up. The next step is to begin to get used to the slope of the mound. Begin by gradually working you’re way throwing up the mound, starting at the bottom. Once you feel comfortable on the slope of the mound have you’re catcher get down and start your bullpen.
Every bullpen should begin in the stretch. The stretch is the position where the biggest pitches of the game are thrown. I would say the number one problem with youth pitchers is taking the rhythm they have from the windup and finding it from the stretch. At CSB we teach all of our pitchers to throw the majority of their pitches out of the stretch position so they can find their rhythm. News flash, the windup does not add velocity. The only purpose it serves is for rhythm. I recommend eliminating the windup completely until you can establish three pitches to both sides of the plate.
Start off by establishing the fastball to both sides of the plate. What do I mean "establish"? I see far too many youth pitchers throw one fastball, then one change-up, then one curve, followed by a fastball. Consistency and repeatability are what we are trying to develop in the bullpen. When we constantly jump from pitch type to pitch type, we never have a chance to establish any one type itself. When we cannot get into rhythm in the bullpen (establish our pitches), then the transition to the game becomes very difficult. Every off-speed pitch will work off of the fastball, so it is essential we have command of it before we throw other pitches.
Right after you feel comfortable to both sides of the plate (in and out) with the fastball, start to throw you’re secondary pitch. For some guys their secondary is their change-up, for others it’s their cutter. Knowing what weapons you have in you’re arsenal is very important. Once you can throw you’re secondary pitch to both sides of the plate, you now go back to you’re fastball to both sides of the plate. Again, everything works off of the fastball, so it is important to constantly go back to it during a bullpen. This process will repeat for however many types of pitches you have. We do not set a pitch count on bullpens, because we know that every pitcher is different.
The final part of a bullpen is to simulate a couple of batters. We highly recommend that pitchers have a position player or coach stand-in the batters box while they simulate hitters in the bullpen. Having someone stand-in for you while you throw you’re bullpen is the best way to simulate actual, game-like competition. This will help make the mental transition from the bullpen to the game easy. Now that you are simulating a game-like situation in the bullpen, you can mix pitches as much as you want. You can mix pitches now because you have gone through a solid routine of establishing you’re pitches first.
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