Most kids who play baseball are used to trying out all the positions in baseball to see what they like the best. For some kids, this means being able to pitch, play the field, and hit – often within the same game. As we get older and progress into more competitive baseball leagues, some kids and some parents start hearing the term “pitcher only” from the coach. But what does pitcher only mean in baseball?
Pitcher Only, also abbreviated as “PO”, is when a player is strictly a pitcher on a team. Pitcher Only generally means a player will solely focus on pitching and will not be included in the batting order or play any other position on the field.
In general, players who are pitcher only will practice separately from the rest of the team. Since it’s unrealistic for any player to throw all day, what do players do when they are designated as pitcher only?
Explanation of the Pitcher Only Role
While growing up playing baseball, most kids are taught to play a lot of different positions. Some kids like to pitch, some kids prefer the outfield, some prefer the infield, and some really like to catch. There are even those kids who are able to play every position and can play all those positions in one game.
While coaches may enjoy having those all-around players on their team in Little League, it’s not until around high school or college baseball when a coach prefers their players to specialize in one position. This is around the time where players and parents start to hear about the possibility of transitioning to a pitcher-only role.
As the name suggests, players who are in the Pitcher Only position will only focus their time on pitching. The utilization of pitcher-only players can vary from coach to coach, but players who are designated as Pitcher Only will no longer be hitting and will no longer be playing other positions on the field.
Some Coaches Believe Pitcher Only Players Have an Advantage
Some coaches firmly believe that when a player is pitcher-only, that player has multiple advantages over other pitchers who are not in the pitcher-only role. These coaches will structure baseball practices so that players in the pitcher-only role will have a separate practice from the rest of the team. This is to ensure these pitchers are getting the correct practice that focuses on their pitching abilities.
These coaches believe that the more time these pitchers devote towards becoming better pitchers, the better the chance their team has to win. The better their team’s pitching staff is, the fewer overall runs their team will allow. And in addition to being a better overall pitcher, these players have fewer chances of getting hurt because they’re being limited to only pitching.
Some Coaches Use Pitcher Only Player in Other Scenarios
On the other hand, some coaches are not as strict with their definition of a pitcher-only role. For these coaches, they can see that a player has talent as a pitcher, but they also find it valuable to use these pitchers in other scenarios.
These other scenarios can range from allowing these players to bat, pinch-hit, pinch-run, and play the field on rare occasions. For these coaches, being in the pitching-only role doesn’t mean you’re ineligible to play in other scenarios. Being a pitcher-only means you’re limited to mainly pitching, but they’ll also try to place you into other scenarios that can benefit the team.
What Does a Pitcher Only Player Do?
Coaches who utilize pitcher-only roles will generally have these pitchers practice separately from the rest of the team. Not every practice will be separated from the rest of the team, but since these pitchers are honing in on a particular craft that requires specialized work, it makes sense for these pitchers to focus on the aspects of baseball that the rest of the team doesn’t need to practice.
Pitcher Only practices will vary from coach to coach, but let’s take a look at some of the common things all pitchers will do during a pitchers-only practice.
Stretching and Warming Up
One of the most important things a pitcher can do is to stay healthy. And one of the best ways to stay healthy and injury-free is by having the proper amount of time to stretch and warm up. Pitchers who start throwing before properly warming up increase their chances of injuring themselves.
Pitching requires the use of the entire body so pitchers need to make sure their entire body is warmed up before taking the mound. Some coaches like to start off their pitchers with a standard routine to warm up and stretch while other coaches trust their pitchers will give themselves enough time to get ready.
In either scenario, pitchers need to make it their own responsibility for knowing when their ready to pitch. To see a great example of how important it is stretch and warm up, check out the 22 minute video below of Max Scherzer’s routine prior to pitching.
Using Resistance Bands
A pitcher’s best friend is resistance bands. Resistance bands are a great tool for warming up the pitching arm prior to a practice or a game and they are a great way for pitchers to keep their arm loose in between innings.
There are multiple ways to use resistance bands as a pitcher, but one of the best way I’ve seen is the video below from You Go Pro Baseball where they go over a great warm-up routine using resistance bands.
One thing all coaches require of their pitchers is running. Traditionally, pitchers run poles during and/or after baseball practices.
Running poles is when a player runs around the warning track from foul pole to foul pole. Players run poles to stay in shape, recover after a practice/game, or as a form of punishment by the coach. More often than not, coaches incorporate pole running in baseball as a way to help condition players and pitchers typically run more than positional players.
There are lots of benefits to pitchers running. These benefits can range from simply getting in shape, improving overall endurance, and helping pitchers recover after a pitching session.
Running poles is also a practice that varies from coach to coach. Most coaches prefer to use pole running in their practices, but there are other coaches that don’t see a need for it.
Pitchers need to have strong arms. This is why all pitchers work to improve their arm strength with long toss.
Long toss is another form of playing catch, but the two players playing catch are much further away from each other. The distance players throw for long toss can range from 100 feet to 400 feet, depending on the strength of each player’s arm.
The further a pitcher can throw the ball, the stronger their arm. So practicing with long toss is a great way for pitchers to improve their velocity. Long toss can be strenuous on the arm so while it’s a great thing for pitchers to work on, it should also be limited.
How much should you long toss? In general, five to ten minutes of long toss is good for most positional players. Both pitchers and experienced players can long toss for more than ten minutes, but they should stop as soon as their arm gets tired.
If you’re interested in incorporating a good long toss program into your routine, check out this long toss article from The Complete Pitcher.
One of the staples of any pitcher-only practice is a bullpen session. Bullpen sessions are where pitchers are able to take everything they’ve learned and focus on their mechanics.
While bullpen sessions are a great way to warm up before a game, bullpen sessions in practice are a great way for pitchers to work with their coach and hone in on any specific details of the pitcher’s delivery. Bullpens are also a way for pitchers to experiment with new pitches or new pitching styles they think will help.
For a more in-depth look at what a bullpen session is and how it helps pitchers, check out my previous article on what a bullpen session is.