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Lacey Waldrop on Learning to Pitch out of the Pen

Lacey Waldrop was used to being an ace. That had been the case growing up and while pitching at Florida State. But now a professional pitcher in National Pro Fastpitch, Waldrop is one of many former aces learning instead to pitch as part of a staff.

With NPF having only five teams, Waldrop and other star starting pitchers have had to learn to take on new roles.

“It’s a different mindset altogether,” said Waldrop, whose team, the Chicago Bandits, has seven pitchers on the roster. “Even in college, you’re used to starting every other game, if not every game. So you kind of have that mentality of, ‘Okay, I’m pitching seven innings.’”

With the Bandits, Waldrop might find herself starting one game and then coming out of the bullpen in the next.

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According to Waldrop, moving to the bullpen changes the way a pitcher warms up and how she approaches the game. For example, there was a game this season when she entered the game from the pen and was in for just one out.

“You have to warm up a little differently,” she said. “Because you don’t want to overthrow; then you will be too warm. But you have to be warm enough to go in because you don’t know how long you will be in there.”

In addition to the physical aspect, relief pitching requires a different mentality, she said.

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“You have to be prepared to come in with bases loaded or runners on second and third and just execute your pitch,” she said. “You don’t get a chance to feel out the first inning or feel out the strike zone. You have to really learn from your pitchers that have already been in the game, and they will tell you how the umpire was. So you have to adjust right from the get go.”

The trend of pitching staffs is being seen not only throughout the NPF but also in college. At the Women’s College World Series teams like Auburn, UCLA and LSU utilized staffs. Each pitcher throws differently, which forces the coaches to decide who goes well with whom.

“I think you really get a sense of community when using a staff,” Waldrop said. “That’s kind of the magic in it too, finding who goes well after the other. I think after the harder throwers, it’s good to have someone who throws down instead of side to side and rise balls.

“As a coach, you have to pick and choose that well because you could put someone in that’s too similar or just the wrong combination, and you’re in a bigger jam than you started with. It’s the small details and smarts of thE game which makes it kind of fun.”

Pitching from the bullpen is no easy task, and it’s not for everyone. That’s for the coach to figure out. But if a pitcher is put in that situation, Waldrop said it’s important for her to accept the challenge and acclimate to the pressure that comes with those situations.

“You take what you can get,” Waldrop said. “You want to tell help the team in some way so if it’s the pressure situation then you take it and get it done. It’s your chance to step and get everyone of the jam. It’s exciting!”

From GameChanger and Maren Angus. Photos by Dina Kwit, courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch.

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