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Proper Pace for Pitchers

Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey suggests that pitchers learn to work fast, if not for how it impacts their performance, then for its effect on everyone else.  

“My pitching philosophy is work quick, throw strikes, change speeds,” Hickey told a group of youth, high school and college baseball and softball coaches during the Joe Maddon and Friends Coaching the Coaches Clinic in Hazleton, Pennsylvania this past winter.

Hickey devoted much of his time to the importance of the pace at which a pitcher works, and got his easiest laughs when referencing reactions of players to those who do not follow that part of his pitching philosophy. It seemed easy for the coaches to quickly identify with the way the game changed when pitchers brought it to a painfully slow pace.   

“Working quick is really important,” said Hickey, who is going into his 10th season as the Rays pitching coach. “We’re not talking about working like our hair is on fire, but we talk about keeping a nice pace going for a lot of reasons.”

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Baseball administrators discuss ways to force pitchers and hitters to work faster for aesthetic reasons to keep the game more popular, rather than allowing it to slow even further. But Hickey thinks pitchers can benefit regardless of whether they are required to speed up due to any rules adjustments.    

“Obviously, you can get into a rhythm,” Hickey said. “That’s part of the thought process.” Hickey also likes what appropriate timing between pitches can mean to opposing hitters, the defense working behind a pitcher and the umpires required to rule over the game.

Hitters              

When a pitcher has things going well, he should want to keep working rather than let the hitter force any changes in the routine.            

“Don’t let a hitter have a chance to step out and adjust,” Hickey said. “If you’ve done something to him, you’re taking advantage of him, don’t give him time to break your rhythm.”

Fielders                

Hickey shared reactions of players coming in from the field to talk to him after a half inning and the rest of the team in the dugout while one of his notoriously slow pitchers worked.       

“It was torture to watch this guy pitch,” Hickey said. “We used to sit in the dugout and say, ‘I can’t wait until we don’t have to watch this guy pitch any more.’”       

The problem was not just about boring the reserves and coaches in the dugout. Defensive players would ask Hickey to do something about his pitcher.        

The coach reminded that pitchers should want to help the defense behind them remain sharp and attentive. “You want your fielders to stay focused,” Hickey said. “You can’t have players falling asleep behind you.” 

Umpire                

Although difficult to measure, Hickey said slow pitchers have the potential to, at worst, alienate umpires or, at minimum, keep the umpire from getting into his own rhythm that could be beneficial to the pitcher.           

“If you can get an umpire in a strike-calling mode, you have him on your side, if you will,” Hickey said. “One of the best ways to alienate him is to work slow and throw balls.           

“One of the best ways to have him on your side is to work quick, not mess around and throw strikes.” 

From GameChanger and Tom Robinson.

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