Being Behind in the Count or Game as a Pitcher: Sinking Ship or Floating Boat? Written By Shannon Murray
It’s the top of the fourth inning and your team is losing by one run. There are runners on the bases (one from a base hit and one from a walk you threw). The count on the current batter is 2 balls and one strike. As a pitcher, what is going through your mind? It might be something along the lines of “Great, I’m a sinking ship just waiting to go under if I don’t get this next batter.” You feel the pressure. You just want to get out of this inning so your team can get some runs behind you. Everyone is counting on you to get this out here. So why is it so hard for you to move past the fact that you are behind not only in the count, but also the game? At this moment in the game, it sounds like you are allowing your ship to sink instead of keeping your pitching boat afloat.
Every pitcher understands the pressure felt from being behind. It’s a matter of how you change the direction your count is heading and how you are going to make adjustments here that will make the difference. There are many ways pitchers can get themselves out of this kind of jam. However, each pitcher is different so you need to discover what method is best for you. What it essentially comes down to is your mental toughness and what style of a pitcher you are. Ultimately, you need to find a way to move past each ball you throw or walk drawn.
Start by having the ultimate goal of getting ahead in the count. The more you practice throwing a first pitch strike, the better your chances are of staying ahead in the count. Getting a first pitch strike on the batter sets the tone for the rest of the at bat and for the hitting team. If you get behind in the count, don’t panic. Take it one pitch at a time from there. Say to yourself “I’m going to get a strike THIS pitch”. This way, your sole focus is on the next pitch and not about worrying to walk the batter. You can’t go wrong with a couple good old fashioned deep breaths either. As the pitcher, you control the pace of the game so now is the time to take advantage of it. If you are getting too behind in the count for your comfort, just walk back slowly and take the long way back to the pitcher’s mound. If you struck out the girl or she hit into the defense, that’s great you did your job. However if you walked her, just move on because there is nothing you can do about it now. Move on to the next pitch and move past the walk if it happens. Unless it was an intentional walk, everyone knows that you don’t walk batters on purpose. So don’t get so frustrated with yourself.
When you’re behind in the game as a pitcher you might feel like you have to control every aspect of the game and take all of the outs yourself. Sometimes a pitcher feel this burden of the score being down that it is their fault for letting all of those batters get those hits. News flash, it’s a TEAM sport which means that not everything is your fault. As a pitcher your responsibility is to throw strikes and put the defense to work to make plays. You can only control the elements that are in your control as a pitcher. When you are on offense, it’s your TEAM’s responsibility to get hits and score runs. If they don’t, there is nothing you can do but go out there and pitch your best. Always play like it’s a 0-0 score ball game. Play like everything is on the line with that level of intensity. If you are getting some runners on base, it never hurts to call a time out with your catcher or the whole infield. By doing this, you are breaking up the consistency of the hitters getting hits. When everyone gathers, tell them you called a time out to break up the hitting streak and to reassure the girls that you’re all going to get out of this. If I called a time out to just my catcher, I would sometimes ask her to tell me a joke. That way I can lighten up and relax a little.
No matter how far behind in the count or the game you are, always keep your pitcher poker face. Much of the game of softball is mental. When the other team sees your worried, frustrated or agitated expressions on your face, you’ve lost any kind of mental advantage that you had over them. They will assume you are easily broken down and that will give them a boost of confidence to start hitting the ball more. By making sure that your facial expression doesn’t change in times of turmoil, they will gain no mental advantage over you and perhaps might fear you even more seeing you not so easily broken down. Keep your boat afloat when you are behind and you are sure not to sink.
Shannon Murray Originally from Lawrenceville, Georgia, Shannon graduated in June 2013 from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. She played four years as a starting Pitcher and Utility player for the Vikings. She is now an Assistant Coach at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, IL. Going on 9 years of coaching experience, this is her first position at the collegiate level. She plans on coaching for many years to come and give back to the sport that gave so much to her.
Shannon’s ultimate goal is to teach her players that they are astounding young women with the potential to be great softball players through hard work, dedication and sacrifice.
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