One of the hardest things in baseball is learning the difference between pitching and “throwing.” And once you figure it out, it’s like doing a crossword puzzle at 60-foot-6.
North Port, Florida – The first words out of Greg Beals’ mouth after the weekend’s opening win over Marshall were, “It starts on the mound,” referring to the baseball’s six 2-hit, 11-strikeout innings. second starter Ike Coupet.
Coupet was dominant, but barely overwhelming. He didn’t have to be. He was smart.
He doesn’t throw the ball at 95 miles per hour, like TJ Brock or freshman southpaw Gavin Bruni. Still, statistically, the scorecard felt like a lag against Marshall, a team that for years has had a reputation for hitting now and asking questions later. They chase fastballs.
There is more than one interpretation for the words “It starts on the mound”. Basically, that means pitchers have to throw strikes and challenge batters to swing…because the worst thing in baseball is the base on the balls – the steps – and the physical and psychological impact it has on the ability of a team to compete.
But secondarily, “It starts on the mound” means that a pitcher believes in his ability to execute and compete, that what he is pitching is good enough to create enough upside and enough disappointment to put batters in trouble. ease and make them miss.
Coaches call it “trusting your stuff,” meaning you know your fastball will sink, rise, heel, or finish late enough to beat the bat — that your side pitches are good enough to cheat. Isaiah Coupet was able to do it on Friday.
“We had a plan in the bullpen,” Coupet said of himself and pitching coach Dan DeLucia. ” And it worked.
What he did was throw his best shot, the curveball, with a goal. He threw it early in the count, he threw it late in the count…he threw it whenever he wanted. But he threw it with confidence, and enough that Marshall’s batters never really knew what was coming. And when he threw the fastball, it looked like a special delivery from Nolan Ryan.
When I was playing college baseball, I knew I wasn’t pitching hard enough to dominate the hitters at that level, unlike in high school. And like Coupet, I liked to throw the curve. What I found was that… when I threw it for a hit on the first pitch, the hitters wouldn’t hit it because they wanted to hit a fastball.
Realizing this, I learned to throw it again for the second shot. And they still took it, still waiting for the fastball. Statistics indicate that when a pitcher has an 0-2 lead, the odds are about 80% in their favor of retiring a batter. What I discovered was that when I threw the fastball, I didn’t even have to throw it to hit. The batters were so anxious that they were swinging out of the strike zone and out of it.
This is an important take on “it starts on the mound”, what you learn about your ability to compete outside of the physical wrestling match of trying to win with the fastball. Once you learn you don’t have to, throwing becomes easier and more fun – like a crossword puzzle from 60ft 6in.
It’s not always easy, and it involves different pitchers at different stages of development. And frankly, it’s hard to resist the temptation to stand there and try to throw the ball past the batter, because that’s an instinct you learn in Little League. Bigger and stronger children CAN throw the ball in front of weaker and smaller children.
But as you grow, the tables turn. This same hitter is also growing, getting stronger, and soon he is able to catch the fastball. And this is where you have to learn to “pitch”.
First, you have to overcome your emotions – your nerves – and any doubts that you can do it. Coupet mentioned in Friday’s game story that it was something he worked on throughout fall baseball to prepare for that moment he had against Marshall. He assured… that he was not nervous!
Second, you must have done the job…confident in your ability to throw with a repeatable motion. Smarter people would call it muscle memory, but really, it’s just a habit and coordination you develop, like riding a bike or swimming.
And finally, you learn to rely on your brain as much as your arm. Control your emotions, calm down and learn to think better than the batter. If he’s thinking fastball, you throw something else, because baseball is predictable that way. If the count is 3-0, it’s called a fastball count for a reason. And sometimes the batter thinks like you as a pitcher and bats you, and you just tip your hat. It’s also baseball.
A good pitch almost always beats a good hit, because hitters instinct is to chase the fastball. And that’s why Greg Beals, and thousands like him, say, “It starts on the mound.”
And now you know what that means.