Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Live BP' Is Really for the Pitchers; Baseball

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Live BP' Is Really for the Pitchers; Baseball

Article excerpt

JUPITER, Fla. * From the chance to see hitters react to their new offspeed pitches to the simulated innings that test their stamina, everything about the live batting practice Cardinals pitchers are throwing this week at spring training is about them.

Everything, except the name.

Live BP needs to be rebranded.

"I like to call it live pitching practice," starter Michael Wacha said. "I don't like to say I'm throwing batting practice."

The second phase of spring training every year for pitchers around the majors is one of the most uncomfortable manager Tony La Russa "hated" it, he said, and wouldn't watch and also one of the most revealing. Between throwing their bullpen sessions and appearing in exhibition games, pitchers face hitters on their own team on the practice field. The sessions are called "live BP" around baseball, though the Cardinals have during Mike Matheny's tenure renamed it "pitching practice." On the Sunday's schedule, it read, "LIVE PP."

La Russa's unease with the sessions came from pitchers throwing inside to hitters he wanted to keep healthy. A young reliever, on one of his first throws, missed inside to catcher Yadier Molina a no-no for the team's well-being. Some veterans don't swing in the cage against a teammate until later in spring, and others don't take swings at all. Scott Rolen was the extreme example as he would get in, track pitches, and hop out. Once during live BP, Jim Edmonds refused to take another turn against prospect Brad Thompson because hitters kept fouling Thompson's sinker off their shins and feet. Edmonds had no need for a bruising.

Thompson is a good example of what also happens in live BP.

A young pitcher or a standout pitch emerges. Returning starters showcase a new pitch. And there, seeing it from the only view that matters, is a teammate who will tell them if it works.

"I think it's more for us because we can ask our hitters what they're seeing," said starter Lance Lynn. "I want them to see the same thing and if they're not seeing the same spin I need to know how I can tweak my fingers just a little bit to get some spin. Because that's the hardest part that everyone talks about. Everyone talks about how stuff gets better as spring goes along. That's because of live BP and how you're able to get a read on hitters, get a feel for the pitches.

"It's like playing golf," Lynn said. "When you're out there playing that day you figure out how your hands work. Then if you don't play for a month, it takes you half a round to figure out how you had it."

Live BP is the turn, when games come into view.

This spring the Cardinals have changed the schedule for pitching practice, splitting the pitchers into two days, then giving two days off, and then returning to "live PP" on Sunday. The rotation used to be staggered so that each day had pitchers throwing to hitters. This new approach, Matheny said, offered more time in the cage for hitters on back-to-back days. Starters who threw Sunday, like Wacha and Jaime Garcia, doubled their pitch count from their first time against hitters and took a break after 20 pitches to simulate getting back up for a second inning.

Before heading into the offseason, Cardinals pitchers and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist discussed new pitches they could work on over the winter and refine during spring. Most of them came away with a single pitch to add to their standards. For Lynn, it was a changeup that he had a good feel for at the end of last season. For Wacha, it was a curveball that he's trying to make tighter, harder, and not the loopy show pitch it has been. For reliever Seth Maness it was reconnecting with a breaking ball he threw in the minors, and for Carlos Martinez it was showing a changeup that scouts used to say he threw too much in the minors.

Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who missed the team's first turn through pitching practice because of an abdominal strain, has his pitch to work on, too. …

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