Volume 4, No. 6 - June/July 2009
Managing Pitchers: A Catcher’s Most Important Job
There are a lot of times when catching is fun. When we get to throw runners out, when our pitcher is rolling through the opposing team’s lineup, when we get to catch a pop-up behind the plate. However, being a catcher is a very invisible and selfless job. There are things that a catcher does that most people don’t even notice. Sure, it’s fun to watch a catcher with that incredible arm, but that’s only a small piece of what a catcher does. The most important, and often unnoticed, job that a catcher has is managing pitchers.
The first rule that a catcher must obey is to make our pitchers look good. This involves all sorts of skills, both mental and physical. We have to frame pitches, keep balls in front of us, call a good game that the pitcher feels comfortable with, and know the ins and outs of the opposing lineup. However, as much as those skills come in handy with keeping the game going smoothly, there are always going to be those days when our pitchers struggle. In order for catchers to make pitchers look good (and obey rule number one) we have to find out what makes each pitcher tick, and get them back in rhythm when they struggle.
The most obvious way to see how a pitcher ticks is to see how they are off the field. Do they like to be around people, or do they stay mostly to themselves? Are they very competitive? Do they like to joke, or do they get offended easily? All of these questions come in handy when you approach a pitcher on the mound.
If you have a very competitive pitcher, you can walk up to them on the mound and challenge them. A phrase like “you are so much better than you’re pitching right now. Go right at them, you’re too good to walk everyone.” This is challenging a pitcher, and she may flip that switch and turn into that warrior on the mound that she always is. If you have a more shy pitcher, a phrase like “throw strikes, let them put the ball in play. Our defense is going to make plays for you” works best. This lets the pitcher know that her team is behind her, and she might relax more. Sometimes you have a pitcher who is usually outgoing and always joking, but on this particular day she is not having fun on the mound. Go out to the mound and tell her a joke. This will remind her that she needs to have fun, like she does when she is playing her best.
The thing to remember here is that every pitcher is different. As a catcher, we have to watch our pitchers on and off the field, just like we watch the entire field as the game goes on. We have to do everything we can to keep them in their comfort zone. Pitchers do their best when they are pitching THEIR game, and we have to make sure we keep them pitching their game. Sometimes that requires us to challenge them, to joke with them, or even to leave them alone. Catching is making EVERY pitcher look good, no matter who they are. If we become invisible during the process, so be it. That’s all part of being a catcher.