OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Norge Luis Vera wasted no time between pitches Photo: Ricardo López Hevia

To be a winning pitcher you need to keep a fundamental concept in mind: pitching is 50% physical effort, with your arm as the weapon, and 50% thinking. Brain and arm are one.

The idea is expressed in Pitching with Tom Seaver, a stellar right-hander, member of the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, and captures a basic philosophy: the player on the mound must think every time a batter steps up to the plate.

Pitching is an art, according to another great, power slugger Ted Williams, and academics cite six keys to success as a pitcher, and coincidentally, they all begin with the letter C.

Condition: With height and body weight as important elements.

Control: The first factor according to Conrado Marrero, who said, "A pitcher without control is no pitcher," and as trainers say, the movements for every pitch must be smooth and balanced, never hurried.

Confidence: A high performance pitcher knows his own best pitch and is never afraid to throw it regardless of who is batting, and must not be unnerved by a bad situation.

Consistency: Mechanics must become unconscious; movements must be correct for every pitch.

Courage: Absolutely necessary to stepping onto the mound and making decisions at difficult moments. Hitting the batter is a logical concern, but a good pitcher is never thinking about this.

Concentration: All thought should be exclusively focused on the next out, visualizing the ball's path, and better than throwing to the catcher's glove is throwing to the strike zone. When the inning is over, and the pitcher is sitting on the bench, he must only be thinking of the batters who will be coming up next. He cannot allow himself any distractions.

 

LAZO & VERA, TWO GOOD EXAMPLES

These essential concepts immediately bring to mind two Cuban pitchers, Pinar del Río's Pedro Luis Lazo, and Santiago de Cuba's Norge Luis Vera. Pinar's "skyscraper" never wasted time on the mound, "to keep my players on the field concentrated," he said.

"Taking lots of time on the mound contributes to tiring you and losing concentration, not only yours, but that of your teammates, too," he said on more than one occasion.

Likewise Vera, the star from Playa Siboney, had great mechanics, lifting his left leg to get momentum, and then after getting the ball back from the catcher, preparing for his next pitch, practically without taking any extra time. The majority of the games he pitched lasted much less than three hours.

Unfortunately this is not what we are now seeing in our current National Series. The majority of pitchers today take an eternity to let go one pitch, entertaining themselves looking all over the place instead of focusing on the catcher's glove - which should be their target - and not developing adequate concentration.

This is one of the main causes of the lack of control we are witnessing. In the season's first 12 games, the number of walks (779) is very close to that of strike-outs (845), and the earned runs allowed average of four teams is over six, while another two have ERAs above five.

This is no surprise. Lack of control means walking batters, and these walks lead to more opportunities for opponents to score runs. Of special concern are relief pitchers, who thus far average 4.79 earned runs allowed. Their walks (365) outnumber their strike-outs. (356).

No doubt, more work with these players by trainers and psychologists is called for, to develop greater concentration and attention.