Last week we talked with Yankees hurler Ben Heller about his pitching mentality and the approach he takes when entering a ballgame on The Bronx Pinstripes Show (@YankeesPodcast). What spawned the conversation was a Max Scherzer quote that Heller retweeted.
Couldn’t be more true… It’s like walking a tightrope out there trying to find the perfect intensity level https://t.co/zenmxCezaJ
Pitching, Mental Game, Pushing Yourself. Max Scherzer. pic.twitter.com/MvjDOV2LdE
Heller expanded on the “tightrope” that he walks every time he takes the ball starting at the 35:25 mark. You can download the full episode here.
The Scherzer quote resonated with Heller, who said “I’ve always been the type of pitcher who loves to go out there with adrenaline through the roof. [I] just get after it on the mound, fearless, and super aggressive with every pitch that I throw. But I’ve kind of realized throughout my career that there’s a point where it can be too much. So you kind of have to find that balance between relaxing and staying within yourself. Keeping your mechanics fluid and easy, but also having good intensity out there.”
Heller said he has never been the type of pitcher who can throw at less than 100-percent effort. He tried and failed at it early in his career, often missing down the middle or walking guys. Heller’s approach on the mound is to attack, not nibble. It’s a good mentality to have out of the bullpen, which is where Heller has pitched his entire professional career.
Heller went on to say he’s been working on breathing exercises to control his emotions on the mound. Taking slow and deep breaths in between pitches helps him stay within himself and keep the game at a manageable speed.
I joked with Ben that he is one of the reasons why MLB has a pace of play problem because taking deep breaths in between pitches increases the time it takes for him to throw each pitch. Heller’s experiences with the 20-second clock, which I’ve been a proponent of in the past, was interesting.
“Two years ago in Double-A, 2015, was the first year they implemented the [20-second pitch clock].” Heller said, “I would try every single time, after every single pitch, to get the ball back from the catcher and be on the rubber before they even started the pitch clock.”
Clearly the clock was in Heller’s head, and he was probably not the only pitcher to alter his normal routine to comply with the clock. We, as outsiders, think it’s easy to get the ball back and throw it in 20-seconds or less. Even if that is plenty of time, the fact that these pitchers are thinking about it is a detriment to their success. It’s like anything else that is a change from the norm. It’s shocking at first until it becomes second nature. I still think if MLB was serious about the clock at the major leagues it could be implemented with some success, but there is no doubt it would be met with backlash.
We went on to talk with Heller about other changes baseball can make to shorten games. What we concluded, ironically, was that the increased number of pitching changes late in ballgames is a major factor to games being longer. This is a part of the game Heller hopes baseball does not change, for obvious reasons.
Whatever the solution, we all agree making gimmicky rules like putting a runner on second base to start extra innings or removing the need to throw four pitches for an intentional walk is not the answer.