By Eric Johnson
One of a pitcher’s biggest accomplishments in college can be making the starting rotation. In college baseball, there are typically three top starters who will pitch during each 3-game weekend series (some conferences do this differently with four-game series on weekends, but three is the most common). Every pitcher should strive to be the Friday starter. He’s the ace and trusted to get his team the lead in each series.
In college, the goal of any weekend is to win the series. That means taking two out of three games. Most coaches set this as the goal every weekend because it is so attainable. The Friday night starter plays a huge part in whether or not his team achieves this goal, because winning the first game of a 3-game series puts the other team’s back against the wall. Every team wants to be in the position where they only have to win one of their next two games to win a series. So, the Friday starter is the stud. He’s counted on to go out there every Friday and give his team a chance to win.
Now, that’s not to say that the Saturday and Sunday starters aren’t good. Many Saturday and Sunday starters have just as good of stuff, if not better, than the Friday guy. But they aren’t likely to be quite as good at a particular aspect of the game, like command, or at avoiding giving up the big inning.
Whatever day you’re throwing, being in the starting rotation is a huge honor and requires a lot of hard work. There are all kinds of pitchers who can be effective at the collegiate level, but all of the top tier starters will have two things in common.
First, they have control of the strike zone. You cannot be an effective starting pitcher at the college level if you can’t throw strikes. Even if you’re able to put together a good outing without control, opposing teams will wait you out and you’ll be pulled by the 5th inning. That’s not what your team needs. Starting pitchers have to be able to throw strikes on command. And more, they have to be able to do it with at least two pitches. Ideally, a starting pitcher can throw three pitches for strikes in any count, but that’s not always completely necessary. Two pitches will be good enough to get most hitters out, but you better have 100% confidence to throw either of those pitches with the bases loaded and a 3-2 count.
Second, starting pitchers have to be able to slow the game down. Starting pitchers can’t let an inning get out of control and start mixing walks with meatballs, leading to a quick 5 spot. A starting pitcher has to be able to step off, take a deep breath, buckle down, and get a big out. He has to be a fighter. Every at-bat needs to be a war with the hitter. There are no mental breaks.
If you want to be in the weekend rotation at the college level, start by working on your pitches and your mentality. Develop an off-speed pitch you trust completely. Find a way to slow the game down and keep yourself under control no matter what the situation. Improve your ability to be a complete pitcher, not just a thrower.
For tips about exactly what skills college coaches are looking for when they come to recruit players, check out this article with the list of skills and a video where Tom will explain what all the terms mean.