Reflecting on 2011 and Preparing for 2012

It seems like VZL winter ball just ended and already we are talking about Spring training and how that is just around the corner! I had an absolute blast of a time in the VZL and I learned a lot of things, although my numbers really don’t show it. I was able to work on some things with the help of a pitching coach that has never seen me before; and thus he was able to look at me with a fresh set of eyes and help me out. What was great about still playing that late is that not only did I get to hear those suggestions, but I was able to use them in a game situation right away and test them out and continue to work on them. I am extremely thankful that I had that opportunity as I think it is going to be vital for me going into the 2012 season.

Alas, another season approaches and I am extremely excited for 2012 and to put 2011 behind me. For me, 2011 was a season that was filled with a lot of learning and going through new experiences and dealing with a lot of adversity and failure on the mound. I did have my bright spots and I really feel like I started to make a turn around the corner when the season was coming to an end. So I am eager to get 2012 started. I spent most of the year last year as a reliever, and I believe that is what I am going to do this year as well, although I am not too sure. Preparing to be a reliever is not much different from being a starter for me. I have my routine and what I like to do in terms of lifting weights and running. But when it comes to throwing, I might have to tweak it a little bit.

After the season ends, the Nationals send all of its players a manual it really wants us to follow in terms of running, core work, lifting, and a strict throwing schedule. This is extremely helpful in terms of them making it a step-by-step program for the players and easy to follow. Right now, I am taking some time off from throwing since I technically just got done with my season about 2 weeks ago. I will pick it back up once the new year starts, but that doesn’t mean the other aspects of my training have stopped either. I feel like if I stop running, it will be really hard for me to get to get back to where I currently am before spring training starts.

My mindset right now is to do everything I can to make it to the next level in 2012. I really feel like I lost myself a little bit in 2011 and tried to do too many things and over think myself. I just didn’t allow myself to be as successful as I was in 2010. I learned a lot about myself and my own mental game down in the VZL and I think that will pay dividends for me this year. What I personally need to do to get to the big leagues this year is to attack the strike zone more and stop nibbling around the plate. I had a horrible tendency to try to make a perfect pitch every time and I wound up falling behind in the count and getting hit or walking people. When I walk people is when I truly get into trouble. I was able to work with Calvin Maduro with the Baltimore Orioles down in Venezuela and we just talked about the mental aspect of pitching. Just being able to do that and get a new view on things really helped me.

Overall, I am very excited for the 2012 season to start and to get ready for spring training. Although I am technically just starting my “offseason” right now, I have a few more weeks of letting my body rest. Then it’s back at it for about a month and a half before its time to report back to Florida!

Art of throwing a ball

Recently I asked for suggestions on my twitter page (@RyanTatusko) about blog topics people wanted to hear about and MASN.com contributing writer suggested on the “art of throwing a ball” I wrote it specifically for him and MASN.com but I loved the article so much I re-produced it here. I hope you enjoy it.

 

When a pitcher is taught his whole career to throw strikes, how difficult is it to throw a pitch out the zone sometimes when you have been programmed to always throw strikes?

He loved the idea and sent us this exclusive blog to MASNsports.com:

“I know this topic probably had one or two readers doing a double take as to the title, but I think this might be one of the most important aspects of pitching that is continually overlooked. How many times have you sat in front of the TV or watched a game live only to yell “How can you swing at that? Seriously!? Come on!” You slump back into your seat disgusted that your team’s best hitter just chased a 1-2 breaking ball in the dirt to kill the rally. That pitcher… knew the art of throwing a ball.

“As young baseball players across the country and the world trot off to their respective baseball fields and start practice, the first thing the coach always reiterates to their pitchers is throw strikes. It’s the thing that gets pitching coaches pulling their hair out, what scouts grade big league talent on and what separates the good players from the immortally great. But why, when the count goes 0-2 or 1-2, do coaches shift paradigms and want curveballs bounced in the dirt, fastballs suddenly are asked for chest high or sometimes three inches off the plate?

“If you sit and watch any baseball game on TV or live, I invite you to watch and notice how many times marginal pitches are called strikes or balls and start looking into why. You think of names like Greg Maddux, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia as some exceptional talents in the game and fans and writers alike comment, “Oh, he’s a veteran he’s going to get those marginal pitches.” But why do they get those pitches? Is it because they have just been in the league a long time, or because they are well respected in the baseball community? It’s because for their entire career, they have been around the strike zone, they are known as strike throwers and aren’t known for walks. The examples I have given are just a few of the names of people who throw a tremendous amount of strikes and when it comes to throw that marginal pitch, they will most likely get the call they are looking for in crucial situations because of their previous reputations.

“There is not a pitcher alive who can sit in the strike zone with every pitch and not get hit. If you want the exceptional fastballs of Henry Rodriguez, Ardolis Chapman and Joel Zumaya, even though these guys are throwing 100-plus mph; they are not immune to hits and occasional big innings. As this topic states, there is an art in throwing a ball – you cannot just fling it up toward the plate and accomplish something. There must be a purpose as to why you are throwing the pitch. If you throw it over the batter’s head, that does nothing for you or for him; all you did was put him one step closer to first base. That fastball chest-high that changes his eye level, the back-foot slider or the curveball that bounces right behind the plate are examples of pitches that setup a purpose. The art of throwing a ball is a delicate one – you cannot just give the pitch away and although they may not swing at the ball, you could have done something a lot more mentally to the batter.

“These ‘purpose pitches’ are also known as set-up pitches in some circles because they set up your next pitch, which might be that strikeout or groundball double play you have been looking for to squash a rally. If, as a pitcher, you become good at throwing quality balls, eventually the batter will open his strike zone up and start swinging at those pitches and that is what we are looking for. Any time you can make the hitter uncomfortable in the batter’s box, you have gained an advantage as a pitcher. Umpires are human beings, as well, and they tend to miss a few pitches, and no one here has ever experienced a game where there has never been a marginal pitch thrown. Sometimes you sit and watch umpires or hear players talking about umpires opening up their zones in the later innings and, although it could be something else, it could also be credited to the pitcher being around the strike zone all game.

“They say the art of hitting is timing, and the art of pitching is disrupting that timing and throwing quality balls can surely help you with that cause. When you are pitching, you should have a reason and purpose behind every pitch, but that thought is especially true once you get ahead in the count. You have a reason why you want to bounce the 0-2 curve or elevate the fastball and knowing what you want to do with the next pitch if he doesn’t chase is just as important in this game as keeping the ball in the strike zone. Pitchers who can master the art of throwing quality balls when they have to will certainly have more success pitching and will pitch longer in games than players who can’t master this delicate art.

“I hope this gives you some food for thought and the next time you find yourself watching a game or coaching. I hope you take this part of the game a little more seriously or pay attention to it a little more. Until next time.”

Learning in Pro Ball vs College Ball

In order to be a great player at any level you have to constantly adapt to your surroundings, the level you are playing at but the way you learn in professional ball as opposed to college ball are way different. When you enter college at eighteen or so years old, as a male you could still be maturing and are figuring out your limbs and how to get everything in sync, this can be hard enough let alone trying to get better at a sport to possibly get drafted. When I first stepped onto Indiana St, I didn’t know what to expect when it came to practice, I heard the many stories of what it was like but I didn’t fully comprehend what it truly was like until I was there. We practiced, and practiced A LOT!

 

One of the best quotes that have ever been spoken to me as an athlete came from my high school coach and he said “Sometimes you just do things because they are hard. There is no rhyme or reason coaches make you do certain things but then to test you and see what you’re made out of.” This quote has constantly come up in my mind throughout my collegiate career and my experience as a professional ball player. When I was in college, we started practiced almost immediately when school started up in the fall. We had to schedule our classes so they let out before two o’clock pm and then we would practice anywhere from three to four hours a day five days a week until Christmas break. When you practice you practice in college the coaches try to find any time they can to squeeze in a few more sessions within the NCAA requirements. Sometimes we would practice at 6am, sometimes it was after school or on the weekends. Balancing your studies and practice was hard, as they both take an equal amount of dedication and focus.

 

When Christmas break hit, we were given a workout sheet, much like the one the Rangers and Nationals have given me throughout my career, and we had to follow that to be ready to go when Christmas break ended. The learning you do is based upon countless repetitions. Whatever the skill set was that day you would practice it until you were blue in the face or could do it in your sleep. But I believe it is this type of coaching that is necessary in the collegiate levels, as you have people coming straight from high school and although coaches are usually building upon basic principles and taking them to the next level. There were a few things you would cover just a bit, but everyday we were going through defensive scenarios, covering bunts, first and thirds, and batting practice. I would be the first to admit I wasn’t too keen on doing so many reps in college, and I kept wondering why we had to constantly do certain things but when I got drafted I became thankful for what the coaches put me thru in the three years I played as a Sycamore.

 

When you have an outing, as a pitcher in college whether you do well or not, there really isn’t opportunity to break down video at the collegiate level like there is in the professional ranks.  Most of the time, when are looking at an outing you are taking in what the pitching coach saw that day and what the various charts said you did. In professional ball, there is always opportunity for you to look at yourself on video, which I think is an invaluable too IF YOU USE IT CORRECTLY. I like to focus on a few batters or remember a few pitches that felt extremely good coming out of my hand and see what I did right in that scenario or if I was bad I would look for what was causing the poor performance. You can spend too much time dissecting video, and cause yourself too much trouble by trying to pick apart things that aren’t there. There are two golden words that I have come to live by as a professional athlete, GO COMPETE. Meaning, whatever it is you do, however you do it go out in between the lines and let yourself be successful. If you start thinking of too many things out there you will out think yourself right into a poor performance. Let your mind work during practice, and with enough correct repetitions and focus during practice it will shine in he game without the player having to put much thought into it.

 

If you are a nit-picker you can drive yourself crazy with all the negative things you can find even though you might have thrown six shutout innings.  Ask any coach, and I certainly tend to fall in this category and this is something I strive to work on. In college there is a lot of talking with pitching coaches, and going through your mechanics constantly to re-iterate certain points or fix certain flaws. When you get to the professional ranks, you are there for a reason and unless a coördinator or coach sees a massive problem in your delivery they will tend to leave you alone and just suggest things but it is up to the person to implament them or not, because it has now become your career and not theirs.

 

People always talk about the differences between the wood and aluminum bat issue in college and professional ranks, but what I figured is that you have these big, burly hitters swinging aluminum and you learn very quickly to learn to throw the ball down in the zone if you don’t want to get tattooed around the ballpark which can only be beneficial to you down the road in the professional ranks. Although the bats might change, the players start to develop more the higher you go up in the ranks and it all evens out in the end anyway. I view pitching to aluminum bats in college a beneficial thing for me, because it gave me a better understanding of pitching in the professional levels and learning to keep the ball on the ground.

 

Although the information is always the same no mater where you go to learn this great game, the people who can learn to take what they know and adapt it to their own playing style are the ones who truly succeed in this game and that is a tough lesson for people to learn but those who do ultimately become the greats in this game. One of the benefits of being in professional baseball, is that multiple coaches are able to converse on a flaw you might have and if someone cannot get through to you to fix the problem, someone else might be able to re-iterate it to you a different way that makes you ultimately see the light.

 

Overall, I think college baseball is about establishing what kind of ballplayer you are and finding out about you, and fine-tuning those tools. When you get drafted talent evaluators already know what you’re about and barring a position change there is not much revamping needed just some minor tweaks and changes throughout the year. There comes a point where you got to understand yourself, and what you can do better than any coach and when you are in tune enough with your body to make changes on a pitch to pitch basis based off feel then you will truly become an élite player in this game.

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