Ok so about three starts ago I was pitching really well. In the 5th inning I was hit by a comebacker just under my ribs. No serious damage, no lingering pain, but I feel like it’s effecting me now. The last two starts have been absolutly terrible. I’m not overpowering so I rely on spots and movement, and I haven’t had either of those. My bullpens before games are spot-on, but the games are another story. I don’t feel any different during games, but something just isn’t right. Does anyone have any words of wisdom for me?
Hold on there, ish.
What I’m getting from this is that having been hit in the ribs by a comebacker has shot your confidence to h—and gone. You’ve been doing all right in the bullpen, when warming up, but when you take the mound, boom, you’re reliving that experience, and as a result your stuff and everything else with it has gone into hiding and won’t come out.
I once had a horrendous nightmare similar to this. I had been hearing all sorts of horror stories, from all levels of pitching from Little League to the majors, all centered on “My stuff isn’t working!” You know—the fast ball loses its hippity-hop, the curve ball hangs, the slider is flat, the knuckleball refuses to knuckle, the strike zone jumps around like a jackrabbit with the St. Vitus dance—and nobody knows what to do about it. Well, I had a nightmare about all this, and it culminated in my taking the mound to find that the batters had all grown to twelve feet high and the bats were now six feet long! Was I scared? You bet. I had never experienced this in actuality, but I was afraid that it might start to affect my pitching. I had to talk to someone about this, and I did. I talked to my pitching coach.
I brought up the subject, and I was trying to be casual and offhand about it but I wasn’t doing a good job, because my coach—his name was Ed Lopat and he was an active member of the Yankees’ fabled Big Three rotation, as well as one of the finest pitching coaches one could ever hope to work with—sensed immediately that something wasn’t right with me, because he got me to talk about that nightmare. He listened for a moment, and then he quietly interrupted with "We’ll start there."
And he went after it. He introduced me to a psychological strategy I had never even suspected he knew anything about. He guided me into a state of deep relaxation, and we explored some of the games I had rescued, and almost at once we hit pay dirt; at bottom was an anxiety I had about pitching in tight spots with less than my best stuff. In little more than an hour he knocked the whole thing out of commission; he gave me more reassurance and reinforcement than I had ever thought possible, restored my confidence, and in effect gave me a powerful psychological shot in the arm at a time when I needed it. And the next day I went out and pitched a two-hit shutout, no walks, twelve strikeouts, and I never had that problem again.
Now, I don’t know whether what you’re experiencing is as drastic as this was, but you might do well to talk to your pitching coach and, if need be, a professional of some kind. Failing that, you might try something that the great Mariano Rivera has been doing all these years. What Rivera does, before he even starts to loosen up, is take a couple of minutes to get himself into a mindset he calls “the eye of the tiger”—a quiet but very intense focus, not unlike what I experienced, in which nothing exists for him except getting the batters out. Then he warms up, and he takes that focus, along with that murderous cut fastball of his, to the mound, and he proceeds to make the batters look very, very stupid. It just might help you pull out of this mess on your own. If you can, great; otherwise, get some help in dealing with the problem. You have too much good stuff to let a hard plunk in the ribs stop you.
And I would strongly suggest that you get involved in PFP—pitchers’ fielding practice. When a pitcher steps off the rubber s/he becomes a fifth infielder and has to be able to do all the things infielders do, and that includes handling comebackers. Ed Lopat thought that would be a good idea for me, and he got several guys (who turned out to be a few of the Yanks’ second-line players) to be infielders and also to play baserunner so I could work on pickoff moves and such, and we all went to an unused playing field near Yankee Stadium (the original ballpark), and we spent an afternoon doing just that—pitchers’ fielding practice. I got more out of that one afternoon than a lot of pitchers do in several months.
So, go ahead, give it a shot—there are several things you can try, and one of them is sure to help. :baseballpitcher: