SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Atlanta Braves ace Kyle Wright treats his last 10 or so warmup pitches as if he’s already facing an opponent in the opening inning.
Madison Bumgarner lets his final few bullpen tosses fly with far more intensity than at first pitch.
Miami's Jesús Luzardo takes a moment to briefly step off the rubber, remove his hat and breathe, then reminds himself it's time to be competitive even with the practice throws.
Around baseball, such focused approaches provide a glimpse into the intricacies of what it takes to shine under the lights on a big league mound.
“For me, sometimes I struggle out of the gate. It definitely makes a big impact,” said Wright, a 21-game winner for the Braves, the defending World Series champions who are entering this postseason as one of the top seeds. “Mentally it’s like you’ve already been there before. I make sure my arm feels good, everything’s on time and then I would say my last 10 is when I really try to turn the mindset on to getting after it a little bit and pretend it’s a little more game-like.”
And, now, others are following suit.
When young Oakland lefty Cole Irvin struggled to find a groove in the early innings a few months ago, veteran catcher Stephen Vogt suggested he might try patterning his pregame routine after what Bumgarner does. It has paid off.
Not much to lose mimicking someone with a track record like MadBum's.
“I have a tendency to kind of ease into outings. Maybe that’s just arm speed,” Irvin said. “It speeds up my arm, it makes me not think and it’s kind of a good thing for me who thinks a lot on the mound and thinks through pitches and the process.”
Bumgarner figured it out on his own through some experimentation.
In the middle of a World Series season eight years ago in San Francisco, Bumgarner began a new regimen that has carried him to where he is today.
He started throwing as hard as he could for the final five to 12 pitches of his pregame bullpen, firing those last few of the warmup even harder than he does once on the mound when it matters. He went on to win 2014 World Series MVP for the Giants, who captured their third title after previous championships in 2010 and '12.
“It seems like pitchers in general that first inning is tough. Maybe that was Madison’s way of having a good first inning,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I think it’s important to go from the bullpen mound to that mound just at the start of the game, get your stuff dialed in, whatever it is. It seems like a lot of them have trouble in the first. Some of the really good ones have trouble in the first. Usually, if they get out of that one, it’s trouble for you when the big boys get out of those.”
Luzardo has a 32-pitch routine he throws for his bullpens and before games. He’s done so for as long as he can remember.
“Each pitch is the same every single time and it’s specific the way I’ve kind of created it and it’s something I’ve built off since college and brought into pro ball and made some adjustments with,” Luzardo said.
Wright began his routine while in college at Vanderbilt. A strong bullpen before starting is ideal, yet Wright works hard to not put too much stock into that performance before it actually matters.
“Because there’s times where you’re in the bullpen warming up, it’s going everywhere, you don’t know where anything’s commanding and you go out in the game and you pitch great,” Wright said. “There’s kind of a fine line of making sure you’re ready, where it’s not like you haven’t been there before but at the same time not focusing too much on execution and all that in your bullpen."
In fact, Wright appreciated that Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright shared his warmup routine with David Cone on Sunday Night Baseball before a home start against the Braves in St. Louis on Aug. 28.
“There's always a system. There's a certain amount of pitches I'm around every time," Wainwright said. “But it doesn't have to be the same every time. If you're a robot to the exact same thing every time there's going to be games here and there where it doesn't happen exactly the same and then you feel mentally defeated, and that's not the way pitching is.”
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