Starting pitching is the foundation for any successful organization. Whether they came from your minor league developmental system, via a trade or signed through free agency, this collection of five starters has a significant impact on your team’s success or failure.
Running programs that are implemented during the lead up to a pitcher’s start are critical for the health and performance for of each starter. Outlined below is my assessment over the years of the daily programs for each starter.
DAY ONE AFTER START
This is the day when pitchers usually do a run for an extended period of time. The next day after a start the conditioning is designed to increase the pitcher’s cardiovascular conditioning. Improving heart and lung function while challenging the pitcher’s mental toughness is the key to day one. Being able to push through fatigue while conditioning goes a long way to keep your starters out there every fifth day and have them perform at their best. There have been many ways to accomplish this. A 30-45 minute run has been the traditional protocol. Timed poles with a certain period of rest time, 3/4 poles for 30 minutes, distance running followed by stair running and treadmill sprint programs have been implemented for the day one for starters. The use of heart rate monitors can help the athlete understand how hard he can push himself and how many calories he’s burned. Charts and graphs from the monitors can provide added information as to what level the athlete is performing on and how he can get improve. Constantly challenging the athlete and giving a variety of options help in keeping the pitcher motivated through the six months and 34 starts in a season.
Ultimately, that pitcher needs a sense of self motivation to accomplish the activity at a high level and challenge himself periodically on his own. When that starter gets in the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th innings, he has to draw on that conditioning and toughness to push through to get that win.
DAY 2 and DAY 3
These are the days where anaerobic conditioning is implemented at a high level. Pitching is a start and stop activity over a period of time. Besides throwing each pitch, he might have to sprint to cover 1st base, back up another base, field a bunt, or, in the case of National League and interleague play, hit for himself and run the bases. Following a long inning on the mound, the starting pitcher may have to step in to be the first batter, possibly running the bases and eventually scoring. Conversely, with the “quick inning,” he may only sit and rest for 1-2 minutes prior to immediately returning to the mound. We, as strength coaches, have to prepare our starters for these various scenarios. Conditioning protocols include gassers and half gassers for time with a certain rest period. For example, the pitcher would run 90 feet down and back twice in 30 seconds or less with a rest period of one minute. He would do this for eight reps.
Other examples would be running half poles with a short rest period, 180 feet (60 yards) and 90 feet (30 yard) sprints with 30 and 15 second rest periods along with short 15, 30, 45 second and one minute treadmill sprint programs. The basic principle is to repeatedly challenge the anaerobic threshold of the athlete with short rest periods. The ability to accomplish these activities and have the heart rate come back down before the next rep is the key to increasing anaerobic threshold.
The day before the next start is usually low in intensity and volume. Ten easy sprints or striders is the protocol. Getting the legs loose and stretched out is the main goal. At this point all the hard work has been done and recovery is the key.
INJURIES AND AGE
As with all baseball players, battling nagging injuries throughout the season and career can hamper the athlete’s conditioning. We, as strength coaches, must adapt to the athlete’s particular circumstances when it comes to age and injuries. Sometimes using aquatic therapy for conditioning in conjunction with treadmills, bikes, stair masters and ellipticals might be the better choice when dealing with ankle, knee and low back issues. Being in constant communication with trainers and doctors to prescribe the correct exercise is crucial to keeping your starter on the mound) every 5th day.
Being able to change the intensity and volume of training during the season can help also. Travel schedules, “night followed by day” games, time zone changes, and being “under the weather” can influence your programs. Developing a professional relationship with your pitcher so he can honestly give you an assessment on how he feels on a daily basis is extremely important.
As strength coaches, we are constantly challenged to keep our pitchers in the best baseball- specific condition as possible. Preventing injuries and having him take the mound every fifth day is paramount to our jobs. By understanding the athlete and his needs, implementing the best sport-specific programs and keeping in constant communication with trainers and doctors, we give the athlete the best chance at success. I firmly believe that the specific programs we implement will help to bring out and maximize the pitcher’s natural athletic ability. There is a great sense of satisfaction when a starter goes the distance for a complete game and his conditioning and preparation helped him perform it.
Head Strength Coach