One of the biggest myths about pitching is that you have to be able to throw 3-4 pitches to compete. Players often approach me right before the season with a good fastball, change, and curve, but also with a desire to get command of a slider or cutter. Pitching is not about how many pitches you throw – it’s about how well you throw the pitches you have. As I work with pitchers early in the season, I remind them that early in the season isn’t the ideal time to learn a new pitch. A pitcher’s primary goal early in the season (and early in a game!) should be to establish the command of your fastball. Regardless of how many pitches you have, each “secondary” pitch (e.g., change-up, curve, slider) works off of your fastball.
If you establish the command of your fastball early, you’re going to set yourself up for success. Here’s why:
1. Your focus is on establishing rhythm. Not on making sure you throw all six of your pitches in the first inning. Let’s face it, as pitchers, we are amp’d up when we first take the mound – which can result in emotional thinking. By focusing on establishing your fastball early, you allow your mind and body time to slow down and get into a rhythm so you can think rationally.
2. You’re not showing hitters all of your pitches. Even if a hitter knows you’re throwing a fastball, that doesn’t mean he is going to hit it. As pitchers we need to remind ourselves that great hitters get out more often than they get a hit. If you can get hitters out early in a game with a fastball, you will set yourself up better for late in the game when you show them your nasty curve they haven’t seen yet.
3. You’re setting the tone. There is nothing better than an inside fastball to let a hitter know that you are ready to compete. By working to establish your fastball early, you are also working to set the tone for the game. Your telling the hitter – if you’re going to beat me, you’re going to have to beat me with my best stuff.
4. You’re setting up your other pitches. When you have established your fastball early in a game, all of your other pitches are set up. The key to pitching is keeping hitters off-balanced and the best way to do that is by getting command of your fastball early and then working in your secondary pitches.
5. You’re giving yourself a chance to go deep into the game. For most pitchers, throwing a fastball for a strike is easier than throwing a secondary pitch for a strike. By establishing your fastball in the zone early, you’ll have the best chance to go deep in the game.
So, as you kick-off your season or get ready for your next appearance, remember to establish your fastball early and often.