Physical and Mental Approach to Pitching – Interview with Jason Hirsh

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Former major leaguer Jason Hirsh has seen quite a bit throughout his career. Drafted as a starting pitcher by the Houston Astros in the second round, he debuted with them in 2006 and retained that role when he was acquired by the Colorado Rockies in the winter of 2006. One of the notable games of his career came in a Rockies uniform on 8/7/2007 when a line drive by J.J. Hardy broke a bone in his right leg in the first inning. Not only did he throw out J.J. Hardy at first base but he gutted it through six innings to earn the win. Nonetheless, though healthy as a minor leaguer, injuries derailed his major league career and he retired while he was a member of the Yankees minor league organization in 2009.

Now he’s put his baseball experience into being an analyst for Root Sports and runs the Jason Hirsh Pitching Academy in Denver, Colorado. Working with all ages of students, Jason Hirsh helps his pitchers by teaching them on a variety of subjects including arm care, body awareness, the “7 Steps” in a pitching motion and the mental approach.

He also is passionate about members of our Armed Services. A week from Friday in cooperation with The Greatest Generations Foundation, he will be escorting 30 World War II veterans back to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. As he says, “Of the 30 men, 28 have never returned in 70 years, so this will be a powerful trip. The 70th anniversary will likely be the last major celebration of these men and what they accomplished as we lose 600+ World War II veterans a day to illness and natural causes.”

Passionate about baseball and education, he was generous with his time to sit down with Rockies Zingers and speak with Richard Bergstrom about his pitching academy, his training methodology and his observations of the Colorado Rockies.

 

RB: Thank you for joining us, Jason. I’d like to start by asking why you wanted to start the Jason Hirsh Pitching Academy. Also, I know that you are not originally from Colorado so I would like to know why did you choose to start it in Colorado?
JH: The academy basically came up two years ago. I had my shoulder surgery – I guess it’s been almost three years ago now – I had my shoulder surgery after I got done playing with the Yankees, so I had some time to really think – ponder – is this the end of my career? What am I going to do with my life? This is the end of my career. And I have a degree from college in multi-media, graphic design, things like that. I thought about going back into that field and the more I invested and looked into it, the more I realized it would take me just as long to get caught up as it did for me to get a degree in the first place. So I’ll start looking around and doing other things. Eventually, it came down to instructing, and I came upon that epiphany when I was playing independent ball down in Amarillo. It was getting to be a little bit of a drag for me to get to the ballpark, and I wasn’t doing the little things I would normally do, like doing my running or going to the gym, but anytime one of my teammates would come over and take a look at my mechanics, or talk to me about this or that, they would go out and perform and they’d do well. It made me feel good and I felt like I was putting a feather in my hat, if you will. I wondered if I should just go into instructing. And then, I had a bunch of other guys around town, one of them had an interest and he was a scout for the Twins, he’s a good friend of mine. I was actually out at the Breakfast of Champions and he came up and asked me a question. I showed them a real quick drill and he goes, ‘Man, you’re really good at that. You should do that for a living,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve never thought about it,’ but then I came back from Amarillo after I hung them up there, and so now, I think I’m going to start a pitching academy. So I started doing lessons for a nine-year-old team over at Legends which is where I have my academy now. I liked the atmosphere and I liked the people. It eventually got to the point where they were in need of a pitching coach and I was in need of a facility and so we reached a mutual agreement. I opened up the Jason Hirsh Pitching Academy, cleverly named, of course, [chuckles] right over there at Legends Baseball/Softball Academy at Quebec and Leetsdale in Denver.

The second part of your question is, why Colorado? I moved here in ’08 from California. I grew up in southern California, born and raised there. I have no desire to go back there. Just the traffic, the people, the cost of living, just everything’s just not up to par with me any more. Denver’s my home, Colorado’s my home. I saw just in my dealings with the kids around here, I see that there’s a lot of talent. There’s a lot of players out here who are good. They need a little bit of quality instruction, and I think what Ed Sullivan, a scout for the Minnesota Twins, had told me was that ever since Bus Campbell passed on that there really hasn’t been any quality pitching instructors around town. So I was thinking this was a really great place to lay down some baseball roots and see if we can’t put Colorado on the map, same conversation as places like California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas.

RB: I am originally from Chicago and I remember a pretty popular academy out in Chicago run by Jack Perconte who’s a former White Socks and Mariners infielder. As an aside, Jack Perconte’s uncle, Frank Perconte served in World War II with Easy Company and was portrayed in the HBO Mini-Series “Band of Brothers” by James Madio. But around Denver, I really don’t know of that many that are tied specifically to pitching.
JH: I like to think that my style of teaching is more personal, one-on-one. Even when I do team selections, I break it down into individual sessions because I like to get down to the kids’ level, talk to them eye-to-eye. Communicating in an individual setting, kids learn a lot better than they do in a group setting. They’re going to get more out of a 20 minute session with me than they would an hour long session with a group of team mates.
RB: All right, let’s talk about that a little bit. When you first meet a student, do you do some sort of pre-assessment?
JH: Yeah, it is a very valid question. Basically I run my academy and teach– I cover an area that I think it’s not taught a whole lot, and if it is taught, it’s not taught very well. That’s arm care in creating healthy habits with a young kid. In teaching them just the basic pull your arm across your body and then pull your elbow over your head is not a good enough stretch for a part of your body which is probably the most widely important part of your body as a player. So I take them through my arm care program. I utilize the J-band system which was developed by one of my pitching mentors, Alan Jaeger. He has a whole thing out in California, I’ve been a pupil of his for ten years.

You’re basically warming your body up to throw as opposed to throwing to warm-up. And it took different motions and stretching, really stretch out all the small muscles, so when you actually do pick up a baseball and start playing catch, you feel really loose. You can get warm a lot quicker than if you were just to grab your glove and go play catch with somebody without ever doing any kind of stretching, or even the minimal stretching, like most kids will do. So after we do that, I’ll take you into the cage and I will throw a couple of baseballs and just say, ‘I’m just going to watch. I utilize a video program on my phone called Coaches Average. It’s a great app, because I can break recordings into 60 frames-a-second, so I can break down the mechanics frame by frame. I can sort out the positions they’re getting into, and if there’s major areas of fault, we will correct them. If there’s areas they’re doing really well, we’ll start emphasizing those areas or really hammering down areas that need to be– not necessarily fixed or corrected or adjusted– unless the kid has really bad throwing mechanics. We usually concentrate mostly on balance. I think that’s an area of pitching that most kids lack. They throw it at the ground, get really quick and rushed and outside of themselves. Basically I’ll– as a pitcher your balance can come from your waist down. So to help kids utilize their legs now, I’m going to take some stress off their shoulders, but it’s also going to help those kids throw the baseball harder. It’s kind of how we start and then we go from there and then every week we’ll either continue to work on something or add something. We never try to teach more than three concepts at a time, just because I think most kids can’t really grasp that much all in one session. I’m not going to say, here, there’s 15 things, go memorize it and do it. I’m going to say, ‘Here’s three things we’re need to concentrate on’, and next time if one of them is good to go, then we’ll add another one in, or we’ll just continue to practice.

RB: Initially, you put a student that you’re going to work with on a plan. How frequently do you end up meeting with them?
JH: Most kids are about once a week. Right now a lot of the kids are in season, so they mostly come to me for tune-ups. I try and make sure that I’m not over-using them, so I’ll make sure that they don’t have a game the day before or the day after. That way, they at least have one day of rest in between our sessions and when they get out into their game situation. Now younger kids tend to have arms made out of bubble gum. They’re always flexible, things like that. But even still, like I said, it is important for students to understand that it’s not okay to pitch every single day. You’ve got to let your body rest, because rest is just as important as work. When they come in and see me, if they have a game in two days that they’re going to be the starting pitcher at, let’s just kind of go easy. Let’s not throw 100%. Let’s really focus on the areas that we’re working on, whether it’s balance or extension or getting your arm– whatever it might be for the day. So that’s kind of the process that I approach that with.
RB: Regarding balance and leg strength, I know that Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens talk about how they get a lot of their power pitching out of their legs. What kinds of techniques do you do with that?
JH: I leave most of the strengthening stuff up to strength coaches, but I will encourage kids to find a functional training gym or a person that can train them for baseball-specific movements. I use the term “meathead” when I refer to a typical work-out where you’re going to go see how much you can squat or how much you can bench. Most baseball players don’t use that method of training. They’re going to find a guy who’s going to show them a functional way of training. They’re going to strengthen the muscles that you need as a pitcher.

I’m a big proponent of yoga. I think yoga is the ultimate functional training for a pitcher because it’s putting you into positions– if I teach seven steps when I teach pitching, then I can find a yoga position that correlates to all seven steps. Yoga’s going to teach you balance, it’s going to help build strength and stability. Just when you hold poses, it’s going to put you into an uncomfortable position that your body may reject or not enjoy being in. It’s going to force you to breath and kind of work through that discomfort.

And it’s a very similar mental training that you’ll take in a baseball game, if you’re in, say, the fifth inning, and you’ve got a run on second, third, with one out. You’re going to be in a stressful situation. I think as a pitcher you can recall back in the yoga studio when I was in a stressful situation, what did I do to get through the situation? Well, I took a deep breath, I concentrated on something else, or I concentrated on a different area of my body that wasn’t sore or burning or screaming at me. That, just for me, is a great tool, a great asset to have. That, in combination with a traditional workout program, whether it’s functional training or the typical 24-Hour Fitness kind of training session, that’s totally up to you as a player. In terms of leg strength, I think that for me is a big one. I’m not big on squats. I did those for a bunch of years and I hurt my back. Now I’m always a little bit tired. I pinched my sciatic nerve twice doing squats, and I swore I’d never do them again. But I felt like I got the same kind of strength doing yoga and doing the other functional training stuff like box jumps or step-ups. Working with things like that, I felt like I gained the same amount of strength. But because there was a movement to it, or a movement based lifting technique, I felt like it was more functional to what I was trying to do as a pitcher.

RB: And as you said, you also learn the “whys” behind those kinds of techniques as well. You gain a mental approach that you can take that to the mound and realize, this pitch is working for me, this isn’t working for me and have a better idea of how the overall body is feeling.
JH: Right. I think the mental game has become so prevalent in today’s world of baseball, I think a lot of kids are generally around the same physical skill set. But I think what comes between your ears now is what’s really setting guys apart, what’s really making a statement. When a guy can go out and throw 91 and get his butt handed to him, and then there’s another guy who’s got the same exact skill set that he does but he’s mentally stronger and he gets through seven innings shut-out, eight punch-outs, no walks. And you wonder, Well, what’s the difference between these two guys? One’s a mental warrior. I think the mental game has definitely become much more important. Most ball clubs now have a “head” coach or a mental skills coach that they employ for players’ use.
RB: What kinds of other mental practice or techniques do you try to teach players that you work with?
JH: I use a lot of focal points and visualization. Not all of the time are you going to throw to the glove, especially if you’re throwing a change-up or breaking ball. It should change. If your breaking ball is always in the dirt, you’re going to aim little bit higher than the glove so we’ll focus on the mask or the top of the catcher’s head, or some other portion of the body. That’s where we’re going to throw the ball to. So when it does move, a change-up’s going to drop, or a curve ball is going to curve, you can even bounce to the glove instead of going down into the dirt. The same holds true if everything is up in the zone, you lower the focal point. Instead of saying, well if the glove is in the center, and I’m trying to get the glove and everything keeps going higher, well I’m going to aim lower than the glove. I’m going to aim at the catcher’s crotch area. Or I’m going to think about balancing on the back of that corner of home plate. Or I’m going to aim his head or his foot. You make small adjustments. I tell kids an inch of adjustment up on the mound equals a foot of adjustment at the plate. I think with younger kids adding those focal points really helps give them a better understanding of how their balls are curving and breaking so they can come in and pitch better.

The visualization– I love this technique. I think it’s definitely something that needs to be practiced in order to be utilized correctly. So in other words you’re basically sitting at your locker, you put some headphones on. It doesn’t even have to be your locker. If you don’t have a locker you can do it at home. In takes kids 18 minutes at most. Maybe set a timer on your phone or your watch. I put some headphones, put some calming music on, and I’ll close my eyes and just focus on my breathing for the first couple of minutes then when I feel like I’m in a nice, sedated state, I’ll start visualizing something that I’m struggling with. If I’m struggling throwing a curve ball, I’ll visualize myself in that TV behind the pitcher, center field camera view, and I’ll just watch myself throw 50 of the nastiest, perfect sliders you’ve ever seen in your life. At the end of my 10-minute meditation, whatever it is, I go out and throw my bullpen, and all of a sudden I’m coming up on my slider, and I’ve only thrown 15 of these sliders in my life. Now I just have to repeat what I saw or what I felt, or what I was working on in that meditation or that visualization. You do that enough and pretty soon those 50 nasty sliders are coming to real life and you start throwing the same nasty slider that you had in your visualization. That works for any area we’re struggling with. If it’s a fast ball into a lefty or a change-up down into a righty or you’re just working on throwing your curve ball for a strike. The power of the mind is incredible.  You can visualize it and see it and repeat it over and over in your brain you can actually be ready with the rest of your body when you can actually go out and physically perform it.

RB: How did you develop this mental approach? Is this something that you thought about in high school?
JH: If somebody approached me in high school and said you gotta do this and stuff, I’d have said you’re crazy. Get the hell away from me [laughter]. I’ve learned– really Mr. Alan Jaeger is one of my pitching mentors. He really taught me the power of meditation and visualization and using these as tools. I thought it was really hoaky at first, but the more I did it, the more I felt like it was working for me. I may do something that doesn’t work for everybody, but don’t shun it because it sounds hoaky or goofy or dumb. At least give it a shot because you never know, it might be something that changes your career, changes your outlook, it changes the way you pitch, you never know. Even if it does a very little tiny thing for you that helps you gain success, it’s worth doing it.
RB: I remember Nolan Ryan talked a lot about visualization as well.
JH: These are concepts that are not exactly new to baseball but I figure are gaining more popularity. Like I said, because people are looking for something to give them that edge to be better than the other guy because everybody kind of throws hard now. Well, he throws hard, he throws hard, but this guy is mentally tougher than that guy, so we’re going to go with the mentally tougher guys. Especially playing in big markets– if you’re playing in Philadelphia or New York or L.A.– where the culture to perform is there. You’ve got to learn how to separate yourself from the pressure, and just relax and go out there and perform, the way it is you know how to perform.
RB: Right, and separate the technique from the results, I mean, you have to be mentally strong. If you throw a perfect pitch and somebody ends up hitting it, that’s not necessarily your fault.
JH: That’s when you tip your hat to the batter and now you move on. You don’t dwell on what just happened. You’ve got to be focused on what’s going on right now. We call that being process-oriented as opposed to goal-oriented. Being process-oriented means that I’m focusing on this pitch and giving 100%. If I’m constantly thinking about the pitch I just threw, or the error the infielder just made or what’s going to happen after I throw this pitch, I’m not going to be 100% committed to throwing this pitch. And if I’m not 100% committed, I’m not going to throw the best pitch that I can throw.

That doesn’t just apply in baseball. It’s like anything you do in life. I think that’s the great part about this mental stuff. It’s not just we think it’s only for baseball. You can apply this to anything you view in life, and even if you don’t play professional baseball for a living, you can apply this same process to your job at the office or if you’re a mom or dad with your kids. There are all kinds of different applications for this and different ways that it can be used to your advantage.

RB: Baseball is a game of probabilities and it comes on down to process.  You keep on taking the same dice and rolling them over and over and over again with the right intentions and eventually something is going to work.  I am a big believer in that.

On the subject of body awareness, can you also talk a little bit more about that?

JH: Like how body awareness, how your body is moving through space and all that fun stuff?
RB: Yes, that. Also in terms of physically how you are feeling. How your body is moving through space. Those kinds of ideas interest me.
JH: Yeah, a lot of times the two big areas that cause trouble, especially for the students, is balance and body control and understanding how your body’s moving and not just kind of assaulting it and poking around. We talk about control and using the big muscle groups, using your legs to help control your fall down the hill instead of just letting gravity take over and fall, pushing in certain directions and hands out. If you’re controlling your body when you throw the baseball you control the ball. But if you’re out of control, if you throw your shoulder out and just try to throw the ball as hard as you can, it’s not going to go where you want it. But like understanding how your body works and functions, and obviously for tall guys, it’s not as easy because you’ve got longer levers, coordination’s not exactly– I didn’t get my coordination until I was a junior in college. I was pretty uncoordinated in high school.

It takes longer. I grew five inches between my sophomore and junior year of high school and I didn’t get my coordination until my junior year of college.  Eventually I started throwing hard because no one understood how to use my body to my advantage– use my levers or my torque of a tall guy to throw down hill and make it difficult for hitters to hit the ball. So understanding how the body functions and how it moves in a pitching motion and how it can be controlled without being out of control is definitely important. And even if the game – you had mentioned maybe as you get more tired throughout the game – you’ll notice your balls are not being as effective being they creep up in the zone, you have trouble.  You start losing your command. It’s usually the first sign that your pitcher is tired, he starts losing its command.  And I think that’s where that mental training comes into play.  I know my body’s tired, but I still have to execute. This is pitch number 96 of the day. I still have to execute pitch number 96 with the same mental concentration that I did with pitch number one. And if you can take that process into there and just think, “You know what? At ninety-six, I’m probably getting near the end of my rope today, I’ve got to get through– I’ve got to get this pitch done and I’ve got to make sure I’m 100 percent committed to it.” That goes a long way in taking your entire body and essentially forcing it to perform the way you want it to perform. You look at the kind of training that guys like me and Navy Seals and Special Forces go through. They’re taking their body to the absolute max, where they’re just, they have no idea that their legs are moving. But somehow they’re able to function. Well, it’s the same thing with a pitcher. If his body is tired and telling him that “You know what, I don’t want to function right now”, the pitcher has to be able to say, “You know what, I know you’re tired but we need to perform this task or this function right now. You can do it.” And then you make your adjustments mentally. You get tired and the ball keeps creeping up, you lower your focal point down lower and it helps force your body to extend and finish your pitches. I think that’s probably the biggest thing that most pitchers do, they stop following through with their pitches. They start standing up. If you can force yourself to finish and to stay low, you’re going to get down in the zone and you’re going to be much more effective as the game goes on.

RB: And more likely to remain healthy too.  If you alter your mechanics, you start using muscle groups that might not have had as much practice as others.  There’s a higher chance of injury.
JH: Start compensating.
RB: Right.
JH: Most muscles aren’t designed to compensate. They’re not trained to take the load we’re trying to force upon them and something’s got to give.
RB: That makes a lot of sense.

Can we talk a little bit about arm care? Can you discuss a little bit how you look at players’ arms, what kinds of techniques, whether it’s physical training or some mental awareness as well, that you try to work on your students with?

JH: Usually the first lesson that I do with everybody, we go through this arm care routine. It can be labor intensive to an extent that it really doesn’t take a whole lot of time. It’s something that– well first we start off with an arm circle routine and we start with a fairly small number, holding no weights. We’ll do forwards and backwards doing a specific number whether it’s eight or 10, or 12, in each position. You would be surprised at how much burn and strain you can get holding no weights and just spinning your arms around in a circle. But those exercises are designed to kind of strengthen the smaller support muscles in your shoulder, not necessarily the big ones, although the big ones will get some work. Eventually you want to build up to a maximum of 16 arm circles. And then when you get to 16 and it’s too easy, you start adding baseballs in there as resistance. Essentially weights. You never want to go to actual physical weights.  We are warming our shoulders up to play catch and strengthening without actually trying to add any bulk in there that would cause possible injury.  Then we move onto a dynamic arm movement where it’s not necessarily arm circles, but we’re doing different movements just to again create blood flow and get the body to kind of wake up, and it also helps strengthen some of those smaller muscles that we used in the arm circle routine. And then after that we go over to the fence or depending on where we are, whether we’re at a batting cage or at a baseball field. We could be in a back yard or a park. It doesn’t matter. But we attach the J-bands, one to each wrist, they are basically two pieces of surgical tubing that are connected with a clip and you attach that to the fence.

There is a whole routine. There are 11 movements that you go through, and again this is strengthening, this is stretching and this is generating blood flow in the body to, like I mentioned before, warming up to throw as opposed to throwing to warm up. I know a lot of kids that try to, as a team you gather around in a circle or you stand in line. And you spend 20 minutes stretching your legs and your back. You stand up and pull your arm across your body, you put your arm over your head. They’re like, “All right, good. Go throw. Go play catch.” So you spend all that time warming up your lower body, but you forgot to warm up the most important thing you have, and that’s your shoulder. These exercises are designed to strengthen, elongate, and get that good blood flowing there. I try and tell kids we’re creating a healthy habit here.  It is just like brushing your teeth in the morning. Hopefully most kids brush their teeth in the morning. It is something where you are going to get to the ball park you take your band out of your glove, you plug it into the fence, you do your arm therapy real quick, and you’re done. The first time we do it, we take maybe 10 or 15 minutes. By the time you understand the program, you understand the exercise and you’re used to doing it. It takes you three to five minutes at most. You don’t have to do the arm circles every day. Although I encourage my kids to do it three times a week to build some strength in shoulders. But the bands and the tubing are an absolute must. Any time you’re going to pick up a baseball, any time you’re going to practice, any time you’re going to be pitching a game. It’s not just for pitchers, it works for position players, catchers, outfield, infield, it doesn’t matter. Everybody should do it.

If you generate these healthy habits, kids are going to have healthier arms. They’re going to throw harder. They’re going to be able to throw longer. Their arms are going to be healthier as they grow up. We’ll get done with our session, and then I’ll have them do some warm-down exercises where we’re working on external rotations. And the purpose behind the external rotations is twofold. It’s to help center your shoulder and back in alignment with your body. A lot of times when we throw as pitchers, our pitching shoulders are going to tend to rotate forward and hang a little bit lower than our other shoulder. This is a completely normal function of the body. After doing a repetitive motion, maybe 30 to 100 times in a day or in a game. What we’re trying to do is pull that shoulder back into alignment. When we pull it back into alignment, we avoid things like impingements and creating different angles and trigger points and anchor points for the muscles so that you’re trying to be as normal, or as fit, as neutral as possible in the shoulder. And, too, it helps flush out lactic acid which creates soreness in our body. Now, it’s not going to make you completely not sore the next day but it’s definitely going to help you recover. If you threw 100 pitches in seven innings and you do use it again, you might feel a little bit better the next day because we are trying to wash out that lactic acid that makes your shoulder sore.

RB: Referring to soreness in the body and shoulder, can you discuss lactic acid?
JH: Yeah. And that’s what creates soreness in the body. That’s why you go to the gym and you’re sore the next day. That’s the lactic acid in your muscle that’s causing that soreness. A lot of times they tell you after a good, hard workout to go do cardio because the cardio’s going to flush that– bring that blood with all those good nutrients in your body along with drinking a lot of water. It’s going to help to recover. Like I said, it’s not going to make you completely not sore, but it will definitely help you to be less sore the next day.
RB: I like that saying that players should be warming up to throw instead of throwing to warm up because that’s how I was brought up is you always, you know stretch out the lower body and then stretch out your arm, you’re through. When you talked about arm circles, you mentioned you wanted to get up to 16 repetitions. Is that 16 forward and then 16 back?
JH: Well, the arm circle routine is different. You’re doing your arm circles at different angles, so we start tiny then we go to a quarter and then to a half and then to three quarters and then the full and then all the way back to training again. Mostly younger kids we start at about 10. We’ll do 10, and each of those progressions from tiny to large, then just large back to tiny. That’s going forwards, then we’ll relax the arms for a second and then we’ll do the backwards. And we’ll do the same amount of repetitions going backwards. So you’re doing– if you were doing ten, and you went tiny, quarter, half, three-quarter, full, you’re essentially doing 90 to 100 arm circles going forwards and then backwards. Eventually when you build up to doing 16 repetitions of each of those spots before going on to a new exercise. When 15 gets too easy, then you start holding baseballs to add resistance. If you can do 16 with three balls in your hand, your shoulders are strong and healthy and good to go.
RB: So you said do not do it with weights. You do it with a baseball, and then you’re adding baseballs to your hand as well. Why do you choose baseballs as opposed to weights?
JH: The idea is that you don’t want to carry a whole lot of stuff in your bag. You have your baseball stuff. You don’t want to be lugging around three and five pound weights in your bag just to do your arm circle routine when you’ve got a giant bag of baseballs readily available that weigh about eight ounces. So you can add small increments by holding one baseball or two baseballs or three baseballs. You can have that extra resistance in there, and that’s enough. So we’re not trying to add bulk to the shoulders. We’re trying to strengthen the little muscles. And use good technique. When you use bad technique you start bringing in other muscle groups that are not necessarily meant to or needed to perform the tasks we’re trying to do. So we’re trying to strengthen the smaller groups that are more of a support structure. And doing that we don’t want to use too much weight in there because you’re going to turn those muscles off and engage the larger muscles which are going to help take over.
RB: Okay, that makes sense. Would you like to discuss your Seven Steps program?
JH: Yeah, I could give you the basics. The first two steps is basically step back or to the side. This is from the windup, obviously. You’re on the rubber facing home plate. The first step would be a step back or step to the side. Something’s got you stepping into the rubber. You’re basically showing the logo on the side of your shoe to the catcher or to the hitter. Then a third step is balance point, and that for me is the most important step in the entire process, because without balance the rest of it just falls out of place. That’s why we keep to a lot of balance drills. The next step is you’re going to bend your back knee. And that’s just a little. I said think of your legs as a spring. If I took a spring in my hand and then pushed it straight down into my hand and then took my hand off, what would happen? The spring would exert energy, right? It would shoot up towards the ceiling. If I took that same spring and I just tipped it over what would happen? It wouldn’t do anything, right? It wouldn’t exert any energy. So that’s the same thing that happens. And when we don’t load our back leg, we just fall over. Now we’re going all-on; we’re not using any of our legs. So the fourth step is we’re just compressing that spring, compressing our back legs, so that we can push off toward home plate with some power. The next step would be step five. I tell the kid to get into a power position. You stride out toward home plate. You’ve got about a 60-40 or a 70-30 split in weight distribution backwards, so you get more weight back than you do forwards. Your arms are up in the throwing position. I use my front shoulder as my guide. Where my front shoulder points, my back shoulder’s going to follow. I equate it to shooting a gun, aiming at a target. If I want to shoot a target straight ahead of me, I wouldn’t aim 20 feet over to the left and expect to hit the target. It wouldn’t happen. We have to point our shoulders or point our gloves in the direction that we want to throw the ball. Right at our target. Our backhand is usually up at a 90 degree or a little bit wider angle. The rest of the arm is pointing towards second base and your elbows even with or above your shoulder. That’s an important one there, too, as well because you’ve got to remember that if– this is the corniest thing I teach– if your arm is up at a 90 degree angle, I say ‘What letter does that look like?’ And they’ll go, ‘It looks like an L.’ So L stands for looking good. We always want to look good when we throw a baseball. And if I lower my elbow below my shoulder, now I’ve got what letter? It’s a V. So V is very bad. You don’t want to throw down in the V position, because you going to be leading with your elbows first, and when you do that, you put a lot of strain and a lot of tension in that ligament. Eventually, you do end up– you go see the doctor.
RB: Yes, the inverted W.

<strong><p class=Shaun Marcum – Inverted W” src=”http://www.rockieszingers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Example_InvertedW_ShaunMarcum_001-275×300.jpg” width=”275″ height=”300″ /> Shaun Marcum – Inverted W

JH: We need to emphasize the elbows even with or above the shoulder. That’s the power position. That’s usually where I start teaching all my kids. Step six, you’re going to pivot your feet, square your chest towards home plate again, keeping your weight back, keeping your arm at the 90 degree or better angle and we take our gloves from the palm position and we tuck it down into our chest or down into our waist, instead of sweeping it across the belt we want to tuck it down and that’s going to keep it in a straight line. Then seven, a last step is to push off that back foot, reach extended for home plate, knees down low and our back foot’s going to come up and over. Ideally it would land right next to you so you’re in a good fielding position in case a ball gets hit back to you. Like I said, that’s ideally in a perfect world, but a lot of times that leg will continue to spin you around so that you’re landing sideways. As long as you’re down and you’re not landing so that your back is towards home plate, I’m okay with it. Just kind of a basic overview of the seven steps.
RB: And you mentioned earlier that a common mistake that students that you work with is about balance. What are some other kinds of common mistakes do students that you work with have? Are there some best practices, even if it’s by age group– say, little league, high school, college?
JH: I’d say on balance the most common thing I see are kids that slide their front shoulder wide open trying to throw the ball harder. I tell kids that’s not going to help you throw the ball harder, it’s going to “help” you throw it more inaccurately. If you want to throw harder, hard comes from your feet. If you want to throw harder, you can push harder with your legs. You leave your upper half the same. It doesn’t get any more energy exerted through it. The power’s going to start from your toes and it’s going to shoot up through your leg and then up through your shoulder and through your fingertips. So it’s very common that I see – especially with younger athletes – where they’ll take that front shoulder and instead of tucking that glove, they’ll sweep it across the batter or the catcher, and pull themselves wide open and just sort of sling the baseball. And when you sling the baseball your body’s moving side to side, and a pitch is not a side to side movement. But when you’re in motion it goes backwards and forwards. By going side to side like that you’re really narrowing the release points to throw a perfect strike. So I tell a lot of my kids, I say, “Listen, you might throw a strike in there, but most of the time you’re not. If you do throw a strike it’s not going to be necessarily where you want it.” So I try to keep them on that linear path. And so a great drill that we use, in the batting cage at least, is the coach will stand a couple of feet down range from them and I’ll stand as close to where they would pull their shoulder off as possible. It forces them– they understand hey, there’s a big body right there. I can’t swing open and hit him. So if they pull their glove down to keep themselves in a straight line, all of a sudden they start throwing more accurately and more powerfully.  Now at home, what can a kid do? I tell a lot of kids to go find a wall, a long wall in your house. Do your mechanics right up against the wall and if you pull that first shoulder open, you’re going to hit the wall. It’s going to be instant feedback to, hey, I pulled my shoulder on that one, I’ve got to work more on pulling that glove down and squaring my shoulders as opposed to flying myself open. That’s probably the most common, other than balancing, that’s probably the most common issue I see with most kids.
RB: Interesting. I know that we talked about how you set up weekly tune-ups, generally seeing your students at least once a week on an individual level. Are there things that you think teams do at various age levels that is often incorrect? Techniques they suggest that you do not personally think work well? Or drills?
JH: Especially at a young age– I understand the kids that I work with are eight, nine, 10, 11 and 12 years olds. You know, you only have 10-12 kids on the team. And there’s only nine positions on the field. And so basically everybody’s got to pitch, hit and catch at some point during the season. I think we’re allowing the younger kids just– I don’t think they get enough pitching practice because coaches are so concerned with getting the all the other aspects of the game mixed in there. I think probably a regular bullpen session is great for a kid because they’ve got to learn how to repeat their mechanics. A lot of my coaches and even my parents both– I don’t have a problem with them coming down and watching and listening and learning the concepts themselves. At least that way when I’m not around, at least they’ve got a general understanding of what their child or their players need to be doing in order to have success. There’s nothing wrong with sitting outside the cage or off the side or whatever it might be. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I think if you really want to understand your kid and how they’re developing and how to help them develop– and I understand that kids don’t always listen to their parents. I mean, I’ve got two young ones that drive you nuts. But I think that having the adults understand the concepts and at least be able to look for things will help them be better coaches, better parents.

So that when I’m not around– I can’t be on the mound with them during the game and start whispering techniques in their ear and what they’re doing wrong. The coach staff can go out there and say, “It looks like you’re not balancing really well. Let’s just concentrate on that.” I think that’s really important from a team perspective is having a coaching staff that understands what I am trying to teach to the kids. And they need to be hands-on with their players, just as much as I’m hands-on with the players. I think it’s an aspect where my coaching technique kind of differs from a lot of others is I love to get involved with kids, I love to put their bodies in the positions that they need to be in even if I’m forcing certain areas into certain positions that I need these kids to understand. So a lot of times when we do down-strolls, I’ll put my hands on the kid’s hip and I’ll push backwards against it as they’re going toward home plate, just to give them that feeling of this is what it feels like to have your weight on your backside and lead with your front leg. Even coaching staffs – and even parents – need to understand that so that when they do get into a ball game, or even in a practice situation, that they can monitor this stuff to make sure that their kids are doing it right. Because once a week with me is not going to change a kid in a week. It’s not going to change him in two weeks. If you do this, and you repeat the good mechanics and you do that four, five, or six weeks, you’re going to start seeing some change. That’s why I tell kids it’s just a process. This is a big quote that I use with my older kids too is trust the process. This is not something that’s going to change over night. You have to understand that there’s a process, a hand that we have to take step-by-step, and the more you practice it, the more you’re going to see the results from it.

RB: To clarify a little bit, are you the only instructor with your academy or do you have assistants?
JH: No, it’s just me. I should clone myself, though.
JH: What?
JH: I should clone myself. I need more of me. There’s a couple of guys around town that I would love to have on board with me, but some of them are still trying to play and obviously the guys that are still playing aren’t available all the time. Eventually I’ll get to the point where I’m going to have to clone myself. And there some guys around town that understand the techniques. They’ve been around me enough they can teach it to kids. And my teaching style differs from person B’s pitching style, but as long as we have the same concepts. It’s up to the kids and the parents to choose what they like. I tell a lot of kids, I’m not necessarily going to be your best pitching coach. You’re going to be your best pitching coach, but my job as a pitching coach is to get you out of your comfort zone, one. And to try to turn on a light bulb. If I can turn on a light bulb, that’s great, but if I can’t hopefully I can point you in the direction of somebody who can. It may be the way that I’ve helped you or the inflection in my voice or my teaching method that doesn’t necessarily compute. But you go over to another coach and he said the exact same thing in a slightly different manner or different tone, and suddenly you get it. And if you can get it, that’s what I want. I want everybody to succeed. My ego doesn’t get stroked on the fact that I helped this guy, or I put my stamp on this kid. I’m more happy with kids in general – just in the state of Colorado – because they’re getting proper technique. And they’re getting proper instructions from the right guy. Guys that are out for their best interest, not just to win ball games or just to get a kid drafted.
RB: As you said too, you cannot clone yourself, you cannot be there on the mound with them. So by empowering children to be able to evaluate themselves mentally and physically, they’re the only ones who have to live with themselves for their whole life. So it’s important that they have those tools.
JH: Giving me that as a pitching coach makes it that much easier when you know a kid that knows his body inside and out, what makes it work well, what makes it doesn’t. And he can go to his pitching coach and say, “Hey, coach, I feel like I’m doing this. Can you watch and see if that’s what I’m doing?” The pitching coach doesn’t have to sit there and flip a coin and say, “You know what, it kind of looks like you’re doing this,” or “Let’s try this out.” Sort of experiment which might not work. Instead you know exactly what the issue is and you go right after it and attack it.
RB: Yeah you’re right. It focuses the issue too, because a student that’s familiar with their body but have a question about a specific thing, the coach can help them break down that specific thing without affecting the rest of the approach.

One of the areas I want to talk about too is altitude–are there any adjustments made for training or health or even nutrition based on altitude that you’ve seen?

JH: I think altitude is a crutch to be honest with you. I don’t believe in it. I think that obviously balls are going to break a little bit better down to sea level. But I think if you execute your pitch to the best of your ability and you throw a breaking ball and you throw it down in the zone, it’s going to break just as much as if it weren’t at sea level. The difference here at altitude is when you throw a bad pitch. When you throw a bad slider or when you throw a bad curve ball or bad change-up and it hangs up in the zone, it’s called a cement mixer for the slider. Because all it does is spin in a circle and go straight. Whereas at sea level, even if you throw a bad one you’re still going to get some break out of it. I think altitude is a crutch. I don’t believe the “you can’t pitch in Colorado” line of thinking. I think it’s an easy cop-out for bad performance. We mentioned earlier talking about being focused and committed 100% of the time on every pitch. If you do that throughout the game – even if you have a 85 or 75% success rate on focusing on 100% on a pitch – you’re going to have a better outcome than somebody who’s just like, “Oh my God it’s the altitude, none of this stuff’s going to work.”
RB: I listened to the Purple Dino Podcast you gave where you talked a little bit about altitude and said that the altitude did not surprise you at all except during the summers the ball tended to fly a little bit.
JH: When it gets hot here, balls fly especially with high school kids, you gotta worry about playing in so many ballparks that have a ton of wind. You go to Mount Vista, you go to Grandview, you go to any school that’s basically up on a hill, you’re going to have to deal with wind issues. It doesn’t matter where you go, as long as you change speeds, you work down and you get ahead. You get those three concepts you can have success anywhere you play. Whether it’s in Colorado, California, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to have success if you follow those three concepts.
RB: And along with those three concepts, and with having a solid mental approach, you also talked a little bit on the podcast about self-accountability, and how it ties into the mental practice, being a professional pitcher. I know we talked about that a little bit more, but can you describe a little bit more what you mean by self-accountability?
JH: I think it’s not making excuses for where you are. Being accountable every pitch and every outing that you have. If you have a bad outing, man up to it. Yeah, I had a bad outing. The ball was up, or I didn’t hit my spots. When people are like “well I had a bad outing because the wind was blowing”, “it was too dry”, “it was really hot so the ball was carrying the ball park” – those are cop-outs. You’re placing the blame on something you have no control over, and when you do that those are just easy excuses for bad performances. You have a bad performance, you say, “You know I had a bad day. I didn’t do this. I didn’t do that. Next time in the bullpen session we’re gonna work on getting the ball down.”

I think the Rockies had that lack of self-accountability for a number of years where they could have used altitude as a kind of a crutch. We can always hit here but we’ll never be able to pitch. I always thought that was a poor attitude to have. I like the direction that the organization is going now, and that they are preaching accountability because these kids are going to have to come up to Colorado Springs, which is considerably worse than it is here in Coors, and if you can pitch down there and have moderate success you’re going to have much more success when you get in the big league than if you just to use the cop-out of the altitude or the wind was blowing or if a ball was left out because of X, Y and Z. I think making excuses makes for bad pitching. I think self-accountability, the standing up to the good and bad, is more of what’s needed especially around here in Colorado where your high school will linger into the professional.

RB: One thing I’ve noticed is that of the Rockies current roster, of their starting rotation, no one has really pitched all that much in AAA. Jhoulys Chacin had a grand total of 11 starts before he made his major league debut. Juan Nicasio jumped right from AA ball—Jorge de la Rosa, Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Lyles all came outside the organization. And I found that interesting that the Rockies don’t tend to keep their pitchers – at least their starting pitchers – at AAA for that long.
JH: I think it’s becoming more of a trend in the Minor League systems, to call guys up from AA. When I was in AAA we always had the feeling that AAA – and every organization is different – but we always thought that AAA was kind of a buffer zone between the big leagues and the minor leagues. It’s kind of where you go when you are just struggling or rehabbing, you go to Triple A. Whereas if you’re on the rise and you’re red hot, you’re going to go right from the AA to the big leagues. The difference in the game is not that much from double A to the big leagues.

But, every organization handles pitchers differently. I came up with Houston. They wanted me to go to every level every year and go step-by-step and ensure that I had success at that level before moving up. But, like I said, that mentality has changed. That was more of an old school thinking, that you’ve got to play at every level before you get to the big leagues.  But now you have these kids that are red hot and pitching their brains out down at AA. Why don’t we strike while the iron’s hot? So they bring them straight up from the Minor Leagues from those lower levels and throw them right into the Major League level. And they don’t have a problem letting them struggle or adjusting to that steep learning curve if there is one.

Like I said, everybody’s different. Nicasio was down at AA and pitching well. The Rockies needed a guy in the big leagues who had his kind of stuff, so they called him up. Chacin, as you say, they flicked him to AAA. He got into a couple of decent outings there but when they had an immediate need in the big leagues for a starting pitcher, they called him up. So it’s just kind of how it works. More recently the line coming up from the minor leagues looks much different.

RB: I know you spent some time in AAA Colorado Springs. Are there any techniques that the Rockies organization does, either at the Major or Minor League level, that are different from Houston or even New York?
JH: No I think even when I was at AAA with the Rockies they emphasized actually keeping the ball down pitching and not necessarily making excuses for the ballpark that we played in. We knew that we played in a launch pad in Colorado Springs. Technique-wise, maybe the philosophy was a little bit different. I remember in Houston’s organization every level that you played at you learned something new about pitching. At the A-ball level you were doing mechanics, in A you were learning how to pitch, like why do I throw this pitch in this situation? And then in AAA, it was “We’re going to hold your hand anymore”. You’ve got to go problem solve for yourself, you’ve got to go out and compete for yourself and learn how to get through those tough innings. I didn’t come up with the Rockies, so I don’t know what they’re organizational policy is, but I loved the method used when Houston brought me out there, because it made me master one aspect of pitching before moving on to the next. But it taught me a different aspect of every level, and I think that was a great approach.
RB: The other thing that you mentioned in the podcast and I wanted to see if I could get a little more elaboration on as well. You talked about how, at Round Rock, a low strike would end up being a belt-high strike in the Majors. I thought that that really stood on out to me when I was listening to that. What other kinds of differences were there? You said, basically, AAA is like a buffer zone. It’s pretty much like the Major Leagues, but was there anything else that from a pitching aspect, and we know that you are no longer in buses, you are taking airplanes and things like that, what other kinds of differences as far as playing the game goes?
JH: The biggest shocker for me, I think was, what I thought was a low strike was belt-high. Because big league hitters are trained to hit that low strike. That’s why they’re there. Because they can hit good fast balls down in the zone. When I’m at AAA, what I thought was low in the zone I was blowing balls out of the zone, blowing balls by guys. I think that was kind of a real awakening for me because I was thinking, honest to God, that’s a great pitch, and he just hit it like a missile over the he left center gap. When I was in AAA that didn’t happen. Making those adjustments, I think, was a big shock for me that first time around. At least when I got called up to the big leagues in Houston, that was a huge adjustment for me. But in terms of the game at the AAA level, they used to tell us that the reason hitters were at AAA and not in the big league is because they couldn’t handle a fast ball. So that’s how we approached– when we’d get a pre-game AAA pitching meeting we always approached it from that aspect. “Where can I beat this guy with a fast ball?” The Major League is a little bit different because they’re in Major League because they actually can hit the fast ball. Yes, they might struggle with another pitch but they can hit the fast ball. So I think that was probably the biggest and probably the only real adjustment I had to make when I got here – the differences from AAA to the big leagues.
RB: I wanted to talk to you to about the Purple Dino Podcast, about how you wanted to bring more technical and mechanics analysis to Root Sports as well. Can you elaborate on that? What kinds of insight do you think would be good to ad?
JH: Well, I think because of my background I’ve worked a lot of mechanics. I’ve worked a lot on working with myself, I’ve watched videos and film, and things like that. And it’s the same approach I take with my students where I get to watch mechanics over and over. A lot of times when we watch these post-game shows, and I told the guys over at Root Sports where I first tried out to join the team. I said, “You know, I’m going to be honest with you. The pre- post-game shows are full of facts. It’s like “Here’s stats and then we’re going to watch a ball game””. If it’s a casual thing or as an average watcher with the program, I’m not going to retain that kind of information, but it’s more entertaining for me – and this comes from a personal level – I’m much more entertained where I learn somebody’s process. I want to know what they’re doing– what’s making them successful or not successful?

I mean, obviously everybody can read the stats, say “Alright, this guy’s 0 and 3 in his last three starts with a 7.00 ERA. But the prior three starts, he was 3 and 0 and a 1.50 ERA. So what’s the difference?” I think I have the ability to go back and look at the mechanics from his first three starts, and then pair them up with the mechanics of his last three starts, and see if there’s a difference in there. Is he standing up more? Is he not finishing? Is he drifting down the hill? Is he tilting off to the side? There’s all kinds of different things that you can see but as a casual fan or observer you just say he’s struggling or he sucks, or he’s not doing very good, or he’s doing great, or he’s the best pitcher in Major League baseball, whatever it might be. If I can bring some of that insight and have some of that analysis, I think to the casual man watching, that way it gives them something to look for in a ball game. Say if Nicasio was struggling finishing his pitches I show this graphic, one where he’s not finishing his pitches and the other one where he is finishing his pitches and you can see the result of the pitch. Then as the casual observer to the game, or even if I’m watching the program at home, I can look for that stuff and “Oh, yeah, I can totally see he’s finishing much better now!” Essentially I’m teaching fans how to be a pitching coach or teaching them aspects of the game they didn’t necessarily know. We did a breakdown, one of the first series of the year, we did a breakdown on Sergio Romo‘s slider. As a casual fan, you don’t know what a hitter’s looking at. We talked about the spin of the baseball, how his spin is different from everybody else’s spin. That’s what you get when watching the seams of the ball. Whereas, you know most fans just watching it are like “Oh, God. I can’t believe the hitter swung at that pitch, it was way outside, what was he even looking at?”  When fans are shown the aspects of what they are supposed to be looking for and realize “This is what the batter sees on this pitch” or “this what makes the pitcher so effective”, they get a little bit more baseball knowledge or baseball education, so that when we go watch the games, they can understand why guys are doing certain things, or why they are not doing certain things. I think that’s more entertaining, at least from my point of view, that’s more entertaining to the baseball fan to say, “all right this guy’s batting, he’s 9 for 13 in Wednesday day games for the month of May.” That doesn’t mean anything to me.

RB: Well, I think to reiterate what you were talking about earlier, you are interested in the process and the stats are, for lack of a better term, just results.
JH: Right. Exactly. I want to know how we got to this point. I don’t want to know the results.
RB: Okay, that’s a fair statement, and an interesting one. Regarding mechanics, we did a video swing analysis on Troy Tulowitzki and how his stride length has increased his forward momentum.
JH: His swing has definitely changed over the years. Even from the time he was a rookie until now he’s had different swings. He’s had three different swings since he broke in.
RB: His swing has changed a little bit, but also his stride. He used to have a really open, wide stance and he’s narrowed that down slightly. Just in the context of how I find the mechanics and the process of it very interesting as well.  As I said, it’s a matter of keep doing the same thing over and over again. Troy’s had more opposite-field home runs this year than he’s had in the last three, four years combined almost so far. So I think biomechanics can help with the understanding those kinds of processes. Which Rockies’ pitcher’s mechanics do you like the most and why? Whether it’s a starter or a reliever?
JH: That’s a tough one cause everyone’s got different stuff. Everyone’s got slightly different styles. I’m a big Matt Belisle fan. He’s a friend of mine. I like the way he pitches, I like his stuff, his mechanics. I use his mechanics to show kids how to keep weight on that back side, leading out with the front foot, finishing down low. He’s just one of the guys that I admire over there. He’s just an all-around good guy, too. I think Nicasio has some pretty good mechanics. Obviously, all these guys are going to have great mechanics. They’re in the big leagues for a reason, right? If they had poor mechanics they wouldn’t be where they are.

I think it all boils down to how can I repeat these mechanics? Can I repeat them over and over and over again in a consistent fashion, one that has consistent results? The more you can repeat and get consistent results, the more likely you are to be in the big leagues. That’s why they have a Minor League system. So you can learn how to repeat your mechanics over and over again. You wouldn’t be in Big Leagues if you weren’t able to do that. I think the guys were able to do it really well become starting pitchers. The guys who may be a little more inconsistent… They’ll be consistent for a little bit but they may kind of lose that consistency. I think they should be in the bullpen. Then we’ve seen guys go from starters to relievers and to starters. It’s a tough yo-yo because Franklin Morales was doing that a bunch this year. Mentally and physically that’s tough on the body to go back and forth. Because it’s a different mentality. When you know you are only needed for one inning, you can blow it out. When you know you got to be in it for seven to nine innings you have to conserve, and you have to be consistent. You’ve got to think about being consistent. And, so it’s a slightly different approach to it, like I said, if they had bad mechanics, they wouldn’t be where they’re at. Everybody’s got slightly different throwing styles, slightly different mechanics, whether it’s from the left side to the right side, twist, side arm, over the top. It’s all about repeatability and can I be consistent with it.

RB: How does that change your training regime going back and forth between the starters and the bullpen?
JH: Well you know as a starter, you know when you’re going to be in the game. So you’ve got more days to– you can plan your program and say, day one a little lifting with my legs, day two work my upper body, day three I’m going to do a total body, day four I’m not going to lift, I’m going to go do my running, and then day five I’m going to pitch. Whereas a reliever, you might not get into a ball game for a week, but during that week you may have gotten up twice or you might have warmed up because the team thought you might be going in. You can always doubt your workout as a reliever, like, ‘What if I get in?’ I don’t want to do this because I don’t want to be too tired when I actually get in a game. Your lifting routine is a little bit different. Your in-between routine is a little bit different. You have to be prepared to throw every single day, whereas a starter, even though they’re not throwing on this day, this day, or this day, but I’m definitely throwing on this day so I know I can prepare myself with that.
RB: Is it more of a challenge as a reliever to keep your body in shape?
JH: Probably. There is that unknown. Nowadays guys have specific lifting routines and the trainers. You have Brian Jordan. He’s got a specific routine. I’m sure those relievers have a specific routine that they brought with them when they got up there. They know how to take care because they’ve been doing it for so long. Most guys have a routine that they understand that this is what we’re starting, but the guy who is a starter and is now going to relief, he has to adjust his program. Those are the kind of guys that, you can kind of find that area where I don’t know if I should be doing this or be doing that. I don’t want to be too sore, it might affect my performance. And that’s where you start getting everybody kind of messed over in there but I think it’s tough either way.
RB: Let’s say that you take a young starter in the minors, and then you bring him on up to the majors, and put him up into the bullpen. Who generally helps with that kind of a transition?
JH: You are going to have veterans there. You got a guy on the team, LaTroy Hawkins. He’s been in this game for over 20 years and he knows how to start, he knows how to relieve. He’ll take guys under his wing. Generally, if you’re coming up from the Minor Leagues, someone’s going to show you the ropes. They’re not going to let you just freewheel it. If you can find a good guy to– someone who’ll show you the ropes. You basically shut your mouth, and sit on your hands, and pay attention. Open your eyes and listen. You’ll get caught up pretty quick. What’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s a good way to go about it, what’s a bad way to go about it. The game is pretty good about that. It polices itself. I think young kids can’t come up with egos. They’ve got to come up with the understanding that I still have a hell of a lot to learn. This game is not all about me. The game will exist with or without me and if you have that approach to it I think a player can learn a lot of information that they may have thought they already knew.
RB: Who do you think among the Rockies pitchers has a really good mental approach or mental toughness?
JH: That’s a tough one. I’ve been away from the game for a while and I pretty much have seen a little bit in the Minor Leagues, but everybody else, I haven’t had a whole lot of interaction with, in terms of their starting staff. There are bullpen guys like Matt Belisle, Boone Logan, and LaTroy Hawkins. Those are guys I played with or been around for a while. And they’re veterans. They understand the ins and outs of the game. Their mental approach is usually pretty good. But from a starting pitching staff I haven’t been around these guys enough to understand who’s really mentally strong and who needs some work. But I can tell you right now that De La Rosa is definitely not on that list.

He’s very emotional. I think he lets emotions get the best of him sometimes, especially during that opening series against Miami. And things like that just can’t happen. Where you’re blowing your lid up on the mound in the middle of a game. If he was mentally tough, mentally strong he’d be able to get through that. We used to have a saying, “Pitch Stupid”. Basically, don’t over-think it. It’s just whatever a catcher puts down you need to pitch. When you start over-thinking things that’s when you get yourself in trouble. I think De La Rosa does that a lot. When he pitches dumb, he pitches great. But when he starts thinking for himself up there, he gets himself into trouble.

RB: They talked about it a little bit at the Denver Post Opening Day Batters Up Event and how it is not a good idea to have the ace of your staff on Opening Day to call out your catcher like that. But on the other hand he’s settled on down since then as well. He’s been quite solid his last few starts.
The last question: What was your favorite part about pitching for the Rockies?
JH: We had a great team. I loved our team, we had some good guys.  They kept it loose, they kept it fun, it was enjoyable to come to the ballpark.  Guys like Yorvit Torrealba, Matt Holliday… It was just… Spilly [Ryan Spillborghs] was on our team and is a big goof ball and I think that was probably the most enjoyable part of pitching for the Rockies was knowing that I was coming to a place where I was going to have some fun today. Because at the end of the day, you are playing baseball. You know, you’re a grown man playing– being paid a lot of money to play a kid’s game in front of a hell of a lot of people. And obviously when you have good crowds there, it’s always fun to play the crowds and go down the line and sign autographs and just to see the looks on kids’ faces and parents and people who were just really appreciative of what we were doing on the field. I think that entire experience for me was probably my favorite part of playing here. Obviously a big reason why I moved here from California was the people and the city. We just got a really good vibe from out here and it made playing for this organization that much more enjoyable and that much more fun when we enjoy where we were and enjoy the people that came out to watch us.
RB: Thank you. Jason, you’ve been really great for your time. I do appreciate that. One tidbit you might want to throw to Matt Belisle, since you are friends. Coming into the season, Belisle was third among the Rockies in games appeared after Tulowitzki and Gonzalez.
JH: Well he’s a workhorse. He definitely works his ass off. He’s probably one of the best conditioned pitchers on that staff.
RB: I’ve liked him a lot for years. In fact, on the Rockies Zingers site we’ve created a hologram John Denver. And so every so often he comes out [laughter] and sings a song. He did an “Ode to Matt Belisle” based on Annie’s song. It was pretty funny.
JH: That’s awesome.
RB: Jason, I definitely appreciate all your time. Thanks again for speaking with us.

 

Feel free to contact Jason Hirsh at the Jason Hirsh Pitching Academy located in Denver, Colorado. He is also on Root Sports Rocky Mountain.

You can follow Jason Hirsh on Twitter at:

Also, please honor our World War II Veterans by visiting The Greatest Generations Foundation where you can read about their stories and learn how you can help commemorate them.

About Richard Bergstrom

Originally from Chicago and after an extensive tour of most of the western United States, this is my second stint in Denver. I've lived here since 2004 and go to quite a few Rockies games, especially Rockies fireworks games! When I'm not writing about baseball, I enjoy karaoke downtown, a bit of poker and a bit too much of my iPad.
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