April 15, 2014
LOS ANGELES — Pitching command is one of the most elusive and cherished skills in baseball.
Every generation, there seems to be a hurler with exceptional control of his pitches.
One of the greatest pitchers in Major League history was Orel Hershiser who constantly hit his spots over a marvelous Major League career that stretched over 18 seasons, including 13 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He still holds the Major League record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched with 59 during the 1988 season.
Known for his fierce competitive spirit, Hershiser was nicknamed “Bulldog” by former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
Now a color analyst with the Dodgers after working for several years with ESPN, Hershiser graciously allowed Collegiate Baseball to interview him on the subject of pitching command and how he approached the art of pitching.
Hershiser was unquestionably one of the top pitchers in Major League history with regard to great command. On many occasions, he was able to throw pitch after pitch anywhere he wanted in and around the strike zone.
“You must have different components working for you,” said Hershiser. “First, you must control your mind to control your body to control the baseball. Then you must be blessed with the wiring to connect the three. Some guys can look at a target as they throw and hit it with natural wiring.
“So they might not need to control the mind. But if that wiring starts to go south with age, injury or whatever, it would be nice to know how consciously you can put your body into a position where you want the ball to go.
“All the components are what allow you to command pitches. And if you pay attention to all the components, then you have the best chance of being able to hit the target most often.
“Emotion also enters into the equation. Pressure, nerves, adrenalin and excitement do exist. And you have to decide when to control those emotions and decide when to ignore it.”
Hershiser described where he visually focused prior to each pitch in the quest for throwing precision strikes.
“The world is very distracting because there is so much visual information all the time. So I had to guard myself visually on what I saw and felt. Because of this, I stared down at the ground an awful lot. Then I let my eyes go from the pitching rubber to the dirt on the mound to the grass between the mound and home plate to the dirt at home plate to home plate to the catcher’s fingers and then finally to the catcher’s glove.
“Then I would visualize the pitch, feel it and then try to make the pitch. I didn’t do that sequence every single pitch. That was one of the tools I utilized if I felt I was getting away from who I was in executing pitches. This sequence would allow me to execute again.
“It’s almost like a golfer in a great round. He goes through his setup and visualization as he builds his habits for the day. But once he gets into that realm of feeling like everything is happening naturally, I don’t feel you get in the way with conscious thought then. You just do it.
“But once you find yourself not executing and not getting the results you need and feel you are not at your best, then you have tools, fundamentals and certain things you can go to so you can get yourself right again.”
Hershiser also explained how he approached his bullpens between starts.
“Ron Perranoski worked with minor leaguers in the Dodgers’ organization and then became the Big League pitching coach with Los Angeles. He taught me my routine. And I built from that. Essentially it was establishing what my core pitch was. For me, it was a sinking fastball to my arm side.
“My secondary core pitch was a sinking fastball to the other side of the plate. If I could execute those pitches, I was usually in pretty good shape. If you are able to execute one pitch, it should go hand in hand that you should be able to execute all of your pitches.
“Throwing a different pitch for me was simply changing part of the lever system which was really my hand. If you can make everything from your feet all the way to your fingertips the same, and now all you are doing is changing the angle of your finger tips and hand position, you should be able to perform well.
“It’s almost like an Iron Mike pitching machine, and you are simply adjusting the handle at the top. If you can build the core of your delivery, then you just adjust fingers and hand. Then you should be able to throw precision pitches.
“That was the key for me. I worked hard at mastering that one delivery.”
Hershiser was asked if he threw one or two bullpens between starts with the Dodgers.
“Sometimes I threw one, sometimes two and at other times none between starts. It all came down to how many pitches I threw during a given start. If you throw 124 pitches and a complete game, do you think you should throw the same 65-pitch bullpen between starts?
“If you threw 35 pitches in a start and get knocked out in the second inning, what should your bullpen be? The workloads in these two scenarios are totally different.
“Is practice necessary or rest necessary prior to your next start? There were plenty of days when I picked up a ball between starts, threw it and said to myself, ‘I’ve got it.’ I realized that you don’t need to practice or throw out of enjoyment. Sometimes you throw bullpens because it is something you absolutely love to do, and now you are doing it so well.
“Then you find yourself overworking in practice and have a bad outing because you worked a bit too hard in practice. Then there are times you throw out of anxiety because you have been throwing poorly in games, and you know you need to work on things.
“So you work and work and work until you find it. Then you have a bad outing the next time. The reason was because you weren’t rested enough. Then your arm is a little sore after the outing because you over practiced.
“Pitchers aren’t like golfers where they can hit 2,000 balls a day and still be able to play. We only have so many bullets in our arms. There are only a certain amount of reps we can do before we are sore. So you must balance the joy of playing, the anxiety of trying to get better and work ethic so you are rested and ready to go by game time.”
To read more about Orel Hershiser’s pitching command techniques, purchase the April 18, 2014 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.