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Step by Step Guide to Pitching a Controlled Bullpen

Mastering the craft and art of pitching is no mere stroke of luck or genetic advantage. It demands unwavering commitment, relentless practice, and an unwavering determination to refine each and every pitch. To truly become an exceptional pitcher, one must immerse themselves in the discipline of pitching, honing their skills in what is commonly referred to as a "bullpen" session.

In the earlier times, bullpens were characterized by a pitcher throwing their array of pitches repeatedly in a long session. It was a basic routine without any specific plan, other than trying to replicate the experience of pitching to a batter. This process was repeated day after day until the pitcher gained enough confidence to effectively control their pitches, satisfying their coaches' expectations.

"The old-school method was to throw, throw, throw and get sore and it would be over with," former MLB Pitcher Dave Righetti says. "Now, you give them a break between bullpens. Every other day is truly a recovery day." Pitchers everywhere are learning that throwing more is not better, it can make things worse. However, strategic bullpen sessions where you only throw 20-25 pitches (after proper warmup and arm care) can be very effective in helping pitchers fine tune their arsenal.

Pitching command is an essential aspect of a bullpen session, and its approach has evolved over the years. In the past, pitchers focused on pitching "in" or "out" to describe targeting the inside or outside of the plate. However, effective pitch command relies on two crucial components: a) it must remain consistent regardless of the batter's handedness, making the pitcher the constant factor in the equation, and b) it should be built upon a solid foundation of a four-seam fastball. This transformation in the terminology and approach of pitch command has further enhanced the art of pitching in recent decades. Ultimately, pitching command is even better than pitching control. As Brandon Katz said in this blog post, "Pitchers with good command have the talent to place their pitches any where they want within the strike zone; they are able to throw not just strikes, but good strikes."

Below is a guide of an effective bullpen routine for a pitcher who throws a fastball, changeup, and breaking ball. Notice that the bullpen routine always works off of the fastball and re-establishes the fastball after throwing off speed or secondary pitches. 

Bullpen Routine

(River to Chalk means just off the black of the plate to the chalk: it's an intended ball.)

Set 1:

2 FB Glove side

2 FB Arm side

Set 2:

1FB Glove side

1CH Arm side

Set 3:

1FB Arm side

1BB Glove side

Set 4:

1FB Arm side

1CH Arm side

Set 5:

1FB Glove side

1BB Glove side

Set 6:

1FB High (Ball, between chest and neck)

1CH Kill Count (Below zone or dirt)

Set 7:

1FB Arm side for ball (River to Chalk)

1BB Kill Count (Below zone or dirt)

Set 8:

1FB Glove side

1FB Arm side

Set 9:

1FB Max effort

1FB 3-0 Count

If the pitcher is still learning to throw strikes with secondary pitches, adapt the locations to be for strikes rather than arm side/glove side. The kill count secondary pitches are for 2 strike advantage counts and it is critical they learn this early in their development. For longer bullpen work, double up on sets. 

If your pitcher is isn't in learning how to throw an effective bullpen, DREAM Team Sports Center provides a controlled bullpen with a pitching instructor and using our Pitching Rapsodo software. The pitcher and client will receive a full Rapsodo pitching report after the session along with notes from the pitching instructor.

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