Today, I had one of my worst starts ever. It seems like everything that could’ve went wrong did go wrong. I couldnt get any of my pitches over and had 5 walks, hit a guy and had 6ER in 3.1 innings. I usually dont show much emotion on the mound, but today it felt like I couldnt control anything. Our catcher started yelling at me in the middle of an inning, which only made me pitch worse. I guess a positive thing I can take from this is that I only gave up one hit, but it was crushed for a triple. I know that if I couldve thrown strikes, I wouldve dominated the game. My confidence is totally wrecked right now and I need some advice for my next start.
I’ve heard of, and seen, this sort of thing happen to a lot of pitchers at all levels. They have really horrible starts—the fast ball has lost its hippity-hop, the curve ball hangs, the slider is flat, the knuckleball refuses to knuckle, the strike zone jumps around like a jackrabbit on an overdose of caffeine, and everything they throw gets turned into line-drive extra-base hits. I remember how the Yankee pitchers, long ago, used to call this “taking one’s turn in the barrel”—leaving the starter in there to take his lumps. Everyone has a day like that once in a while. But you let it get to you, to the extent that after having a day like that you haven’t been able to snap back.
What to do?
In an extreme case, you need to talk to someone about this—maybe a pitching coach, a manager, or even a professional who may be able to advise you about what to do next. There are any number of sports psychologists who have had experience in dealing with this kind of situation. Now, I’m not a psychologist, but I can ask you this—is this the first time you’ve run into this problem, or has it happened before? If the former, you might be able to think this through. Maybe something happened on the day of the game, or even before that, to mess up your thinking. But if this is a recurrent situation, get some help in dealing with it.
Let me share a story with you that illustrates this.
It was the winter of 1952-53. I had had a good season, 4-0 and a goodly number of what we called at the time “rescued games”. But now I started thinking. I had heard all kinds of horror stories from pitchers who were facing the same problems on the mound you have just described, and I hadn’t thought anything of it; but in the winter I started thinking about it, and I got to wondering—how would I deal with such a situation if it arose? Then suddenly the “how would I handle it” morphed into “Can I handle it?”, and one night I had a horrendous nightmare. In this nightmare I was warming up prior to starting a game, and suddenly my two best pitches—the slider and the knuckle-curve—went into hiding and refused to come out, and home plate disappeared so I could no longer find it. And when I went out to take the mound I noticed that the opposing batters had grown to twelve feet high and their bats were six feet long! I awoke with a start, and for two hours I could not get back to sleep: I sat there in bed and stared into the darkness.
A couple of weeks later I went to Yankee Stadium to see a ball game. I arrived early, about 3:45 PM, and I was making my way to Gate Four—this was the original ballpark, by the way—when Ed Lopat, who was my pitching coach (and one of the finest anyone could ever hope to work with) pulled up in his car and parked it. He saw me and came over to where I was standing, and for a while we talked about my previous season’s rescued games. I brought up the subject of stuff not working, and I tried to be casual and offhand about it, but I wasn’t doing a very good job of it because Lopat abruptly got this look on his face—intent concentration, as if he were trying to read my mind. And I wound up telling him about that nightmare. He listened for a minute or so, and then he interrupted me with a quiet "We’ll start there."
He then introduced me to a psychological strategy I’d had no idea he knew anything about. He guided me into a state of deep relaxation, and we explored some of those games I had pitched, and all at once we hit the focal point. I’d had no idea that this was on my mind, but I was experiencing an anxiety, an uncertainty about pitching in tight spots with less than my best stuff! He went right after it, and in about an hour he knocked the whole problem out of commission. He gave me more support, reassurance and reinforcement than I had ever thought possible, and he restored my confidence and demolished any anxieties I might have had about the situation. And as I returned to full awareness he said quietly, "You can handle it."
That night I watched him pitch a three-hit shutout as only he could do. I saw the Yankees win 8-0. I was scheduled to pitch the next afternoon, and I went out and pitched a two-hitter, no walks, a whole bunch of strikeouts. And I never had that problem again.
This is an example of what one can do to address it if recurs. Now, if this was the first and only time you had it, you might do well to think of it as a “turn in the barrel” situation—something almost every pitcher has had to go through—and tell yourself that it’ll all work out better the next time. One more thing—Satchel Paige once said, "Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move."
Then go out there and pitch a shutout. 8) :baseballpitcher:
One of the nice things about baseball and sports, is that the next game starts with the score being 0-0. That should be your mindset next outing, you got another shot.
When I had bad outings, I liked to do a few things:
Review the start - As painful as it may be to revisit your previous outing, you can learn from the negative things that happened, and learn what you need to change. Listen to your coaches to see what they may have seen to make you better.
Get back to work - Doing nothing and moping around doesn’t help you get better.
Stay positive - When you get knocked down on your butt, it’s easy to stay down, but you have to make the choice to get back on your feet and continue to fight and get better. This goes with baseball and life.