How to Win Games with Your 'C' Stuff by Jonathan Massey
By now most of you are either deep into the baseball season or have just begun. As much as I want each one of you to have your best stuff every time you take the mound, that is simply not going to happen. Not even the great ones like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, or Randy Johnson had their best stuff every time they took the mound. Yet the difference between those guys and the average major league guy is that those guys found ways to win with their ‘C’ stuff. And just like training to throw a 90 mph fastball, learning to win with your ‘C’ stuff can and should be trained.
Control what you can control
In the game of baseball there are not very many things that we as a pitcher actually have control over. We can’t control how big or small the umpire’s strike zone is and we can’t control whether or not our defense/offense shows up on any given night. Heck, we can’t even control whether or not the batter gets a base hit or not. But what we can control is our body language, our tempo, and our ability to execute a pitch. So don’t hang your head if you throw a great pitch and the hitter caps it over your first/third baseman for a double, or if it seems like every ground ball happens to be a seeing-eye single. Those things happen. Learn to say “So what, next pitch.” One of the worst things you can do is become frustrated with the results. Understand that the process of executing your pitch will lead to getting outs, even though, in the moment, it may not be happening. Continue to execute pitches and good things will happen.
… and not just in games. Compete in practices, compete in school, and compete at home. It’s not just competing to compete, but put consequences for failure. In a bullpen pitch to an imaginary batter, commit to do five pushups if you fail to execute a first pitch strike. If you don’t get your chores done by a certain time, dock yourself 30 minutes of TV time or gaming time. It’s not really competing unless something is on the line. In a game, as in real life, there are consequences for not getting the job done. If you fall behind a hitter, there’s a consequence for it. If you fail to execute your pitch, there’s a consequence for it. So learn to compete because when you have your ‘C’ stuff sometimes competing is all you can do. Some outings when you don’t have your best command you are going to have to tell yourself that your ‘stuff’ is better than the hitter and throw it down the middle.
Make your practices tougher than the game
Have you ever been in a game in which you’ve been on cruise control, and then all of a sudden something happens that disrupts your rhythm? For instance, you make a great pitch and the umpire calls it a ball, or a hitter gets a cheap base hit. Then it happens again and then again. And then, all of a sudden, the game is starting to speed up on you, or even get away from you. I have definitely been in my fair share of those kinds of situations. What happened at that point was the game became much more difficult than my practices.
How much easier would the games be if we practiced on a strike zone that was two inches smaller than normal, or if we hit off a machine that was throwing five mph harder than we normally faced? The answer is obvious. The game would be much easier. One my favorite quotes is, “Guys DO NOT rise to the occasion, they SINK to the level of their training.”-Frans Bosh. The reason that guys like Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning seem like they get better when the game was on the line, is because they were so much better prepared and trained that they sank less than everybody else. So practice at a level to where your ‘C’ game is still better than the competition.
Understand what you are doing well
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”- Mike Tyson. Everybody has a game plan on the way we want the game to go. More often than not things don’t go that way, so you are going to have learn to adjust, adapt, and overcome. The first thing you need to figure out when things are going south is what IS working for you that day. If my command is not there, stop trying to nibble at corners. Throw your fastball down the middle; the best of the best still only hit about .400 on pitches down the middle, which means they get out the other 6 times. You can even pitch backwards if you have a feel for an off speed pitch that night. If you only have feel for your fastball but not any of you off speed pitches, move your fastball around the zone: up, down, in and out. I'm not saying to completely abandon your game plan for the night; but to continue with a game plan that isn't working, hoping that some how you miraculously 'find it' is insane. So figure what you are doing well on that night and adjust your game plan accordingly.
Winning a game with ‘C’ stuff is by no means an easy task. It’s extremely easy to become frustrated with the result, and/or your inability to pitch like you know you can. But if you can control what you can control, be a fierce competitor, practice at a level that is harder than the game, and understand what you have on that day, you may not win the game, but I promise you will be extremely tough to beat.
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