Bad Outing!


My 9 year old had his first game of the 2011 Little League Minors Spring Season (this will be his second season pitching in LL Minors).

He had been sick with a cold and missed school that day, and I wasn’t going to pitch him but he insisted he felt fine and wanted to pitch.

I should have gone with my instincts.

He pitched and really didn’t look all that bad. He seemed strong and threw hard, but the umpire certainly didn’t help him and at the end of the day it ended up a walk fest: losing batters after getting ahead 0-2 and 1-2; full counts followed by a ball or by a foul ball and then a ball; etc.

I pulled him after 5 batters.

Now he’s upset (not that I pulled him but at his performance).

Any thoughts? Always go with my instincts? When should I put him back on the mound? Time off? Put him back on the mound ASAP?

I know this is just the first of what will surely be many bad outings in his pitching career (he does throw very hard for his age), but any advice would be appreciated, especially on what to say and do after days like this.


Put it behind you.
It isn’t a given that there will be many more of the bad, umps will be umps and most at the youth level will make you nuts if you let them. At 9 if he was getting ahead, then losing them, yes it could have been an ump with too fine a zone, the boy could also have picked up on your frustration with being squeezed by the blue…in any event, “wipe off the rubber” so to speak and carry on smartly…pitchers have to have a short memory so he might just as well start learning that now. If you recall anything to build on from the outing, do so. Do let it be a lesson to you, kids/pitchers will and want to take the ball, the coach has to have that knowledge and a long run vision, none of these games matter a hill-o-beans, so the 1st instinct should always be to protect and save.

Games like this are all part of developing the mental part of the game. Your son has no control on how the umpire calls the game. Learning how to control those feelings of injustice is a discipline which leads to consistency and eventually better performances.

I took my son out of a game after two innings last year because his emotions were getting to him. The umpire was squeezing him, forcing him to throw the ball down the middle. Myself and the other team’s coach sat behind home plate during this games, and neither of us saw a ball. We both felt his pitches were the best we ever saw, and the movement was incredible. Unfortunately, the umpire felt otherwise, and it’s the umpires call that counts. This led to little infield grounders and a parade of bad fielding and infield hits. His frustration level rose with each pitch, until he started to just rear back and burn a hole in the catcher’s mitt. He wasn’t pitching anymore. He was throwing with emotions - and the results were bad. He gave up five hits, three walks, 4 Ks and seven runs in those two innings, while throwing a whopping 58 pitches. To put things in perspective, he gave up a total of ten hits in his other ten starts during the LL season. He wanted to go back out in the 3rd inning to redeem himself, but instead, I sat him for the rest of the game. He was very mad at his performance. He stayed on his regular pitching rotation, and rest of the year went fine. Fast forward to the playoffs. Playing the same team in game #1. He’s pitching. Everyone remembers the 1st meeting. He pitches a gem, throwing a two-hitter and hits a home run to win the game. He was in command of his emotions and his pitches.

Kids will have bad days. It’s inevitable.

First you have to be willing to tell yourself that no matter wo it is you (as a coach) make “Team” decisions always and not individuals decisions no matter who it is. You don’t think he can go then, he doesn’t go, not him wanting to go or what ever, next you will get parents influencing you to put little Johnny in, or he should have been there.

Next, put him back in right away, pitchers aren’t made to be baby’d, they need encouragement but they don’t need hand holding, no matter the age. Start him next game and be willing to pull him out quick or, leave him for the max if he preforms.

At some time just about every pitcher will have an "off"day when nothing seems to be working for him. I remember when the Yankees’ pitchers had a name for that; they called it “taking one’s turn in the barrel”, where the starting pitcher would be left in there to take his lumps, either because the pitching staff needed to catch up with itself as a result of injury or everybody being overworked—I saw plenty of that, believe me. The thing to remember is that it does happen, and unless the pitcher, because of illness or injury, had no business being out there he should just shrug it off, put it aside (as buwhite astutely observed) and go on to the next start.
As for the umpire “squeezing” the pitcher’s strike zone, forcing him to throw it down the middle where the batters could get good wood on it—we have to remember that the men in blue are, after all, human, and anything could have happened to set this ump off like that—a fight with his wife, the dog did something that earned it a good swift kick, a phone call informing him that he had an appointment with the IRS for an audit, you name it. In Hawaii they have a word for things like that; they call it “pilikia”, and it means any and all kinds of trouble, from the most inconsequential annoyance to the direst catastrophe. Okay. So the plate umpire was having “pilikia” of one kind or another—but one thing the pitcher cannot do is take it personally, allow his emotions to get the better of him, or he won’t last very long at any level of the game. That’s one thing the kid needs to do, is learn that.
And you, the parent, really should have gone with your gut on this issue. If the kid was really feeling crummy, even though he insisted he was fine, you should have kept him home for a couple of days. So he would have missed a start—a little rest won’t do any harm, and he would have been feeling a lot better for that next start. It has been said that the pitchers are being babied too much these days—but you don’t fool with a physical ailment that can screw up one’s concentration.
I have to tell you this story—it’s a funny one, and it happens to be very true. You know about the balk rule. Well, in the early fifties, even a little before that, the Yankee pitchers were getting away with murder, coming to just a slight hesitation before delivering the pitch from the stretch instead of coming to a full one-second stop. The umpires had been ignoring it, but come 1952 they decided they were going to enforce that rule. One day Vic Raschi was pitching, and with a runner on base he came to that slight hesitation, and the umpire called him for a balk. This happened three more times in that game—I think the record still stands—and Raschi was ready to go through the roof. But Allie Reynolds managed to calm him down and said that he would put a stop to it.
The next day Reynolds was pitching, and at one point there was a runner on base. Reynolds got the ball from the catcher—and he held on to it and held on to it and held on to it. Then he called time, stepped off the rubber, went to the rosin bag and futzed around with it for a minute or so. then got back on the mound—and held on to the ball and held on to the ball and held on to the ball. The plate umpire was getting very nervous, perhaps even exasperated, and he walked out to the mound and asked Reynolds, “Why don’t you throw the ball?” The pitcher’s reply: “I’m afraid to.” Allie Pierce Reynolds—who was not afraid of anything. The umpire persisted: “Why are you afraid to throw the ball?” Reynolds said, "Because if I let go of the ball you’ll call me for a balk."
The umpire spluttered and then burst out laughing—and finally he decreed that for the rest of the season the Yankee pitchers, and only the Yankee pitchers, would be allowed to come to that slight hesitation when pitching from the stretch.
The following year everybody paid attention to that balk rule. 8)


Last week my 9 year old son had a solid first inning but shaky second inning.

Then last night he was the starting and winning pitcher, throwing very well and as hard as I’ve ever seen him: 2 innings, 36 pitches, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 0 hits.

I was tempted to let him pitch the 3rd inning - after all he only had 36 pitches after two and looked strong - but thought to myself, “Why risk his great outing? Why risk this confidence booster? It’s early in the season. A lot can happen when a 9 year old goes from 36 pitches to 55 pitches.”

I think I did the right thing.

Risk the outing to gain confidence in him for you and him both. Next time let him go till the wheels come off!

My son when he was 9 hated only pitching an inning or two. Now, I don’t think he even cares about what or how little he pitched when he was 9. Keep him on a pitch count. It’ll pay off as he gets older.

My thinking was that, after a lousy first game pitching sick and a mediocre second game, the game last night was as good as he could have thrown, so why risk losing that confidence builder by giving him a third inning that very well could have ended with me pulling him? Basically, I saw a third inning as “little to gain and much to lose.”

I like the idea of pitch count, kid is going 20 or 30 pitches no matter the outcome at that age, nothing mental for the kid or the coach.

I understand that thinking. It is nearly always better for a pitcher to come out after a completed inning than in the middle of an inning. Having said that my experience is that in any given outing young pitchers are going to have a range of success even in good outings. One inning a kid can barely find the zone and the next strike the side out. It could be a lack of focus or mechanics or it could be a bad call or seeing eye hit. I call it the tipping point where everything is going your way and the next thing you know a couple runs have scored and you wonder how you are going to get out of the inning. In a lot of cases it is important to let pitchers work their way out of those innings. That builds confidence as well. The important thing is that they keep competing and don’t get down, if that happens it is time to take them out.

I remember one day when Ed Lopat and I were talking about just such a situation: not only coming into a game in the middle of an inning but coming into a game in the middle of a 3-0 count. Here’s what’s going on: the pitcher has run into trouble late in the game. The bases are loaded, there’s one out, the pitcher is fighting to hold on to a one-run lead, and the count has gone to 3-and-0—a hitter’s count if ever there was one—and the manager just can’t take it any more and he comes out and gives the pitcher the hook, yanks him from the game. Now the relief pitcher comes in and is faced with this crisis. The batter has the count in his favor…
Now here’s a specialized instance of what Lopat told me some time back: Figure out what the batter is looking for—and don’t give it to him. We talked about that, and I said that one thing I was not about to do was walk the batter, not with the bases loaded and the game hanging by one run. What I would do was come in there with something that the batter would have to swing at, something he would either foul off or miss altogether. This would run the count to 3-and-1, and that would make for a little breathing room.
The next step? The pitcher might go for the strikeout. Or the infield might go to double-play depth, and a ground ball to one of the middle infielders, boom boom, you’re out of the inning with no further scoring. It depends a lot on the particular proclivities of the batter, and here is where it’s absolutely essential to know them—what is that batter capable of doing, what might he do next—swing for the fences, for example? Or is there the threat of a squeeze play?—in which case the pitcher had better be ready to cover the plate if the catcher, for some reason, is out of position. I remember how we talked about the various possibilities for over an hour. This, dear readers, is strategic pitching at its ultimate. 8)