Quite often the normal routine of a Spring Training bullpen is simply that of the pitcher throwing the ball to the catcher for his designated pitch count and then moving on to the next station of the day. But as Bud Norris took the mound for his first chance to throw to Yadier Molina, the bullpen session proved to be a fascinating watch of communication between the battery mates and pitching coach Mike Maddux.
“I was excited,” admitted Norris, who had been looking forward to throwing to Molina since he signed with the team. “Unbelievable hands, he made everything look like a strike. So I felt like it was a great bullpen for a reason.”
But there was real work being done. First, the two discussed what Norris wanted to throw and the dialogue continued as he pitched.
“Just a couple of things–finding that timing, finding that rhythm, what are we really trying to do with a couple of those pitches,” shared Norris. “Especially the changeup was in the dialogue. With Yadi back there, I wanted to talk. I wanted to let him know what works for me, what doesn’t work for me, what am I really trying to improve upon.”
Norris normally likes to talk in bullpen sessions, but today was more than usual. He would talk or motion after almost every pitch, asking for feedback from Molina or calling for a fastball down and away again to hit the right location.
“Like the changeup, I want this one a little more to the lefty, this one to a righty and why and this and that. And then same thing, Maddux had mentioned 0-0 breaking balls–how many guys swing at an 0-0 breaking ball, curve ball over the middle of the plate? Let’s not get the 0-2 one right away, let’s get the 0-0 right down the middle of the plate. Down, middle and get a ground ball. Just some communication, some things to really hone in on.”
Another pitch and more feedback. Not what they wanted it and it was done over for a better result. Norris would then explain what kind of break or run he was hoping for on the next delivery.
“Once again, (Yadi’s) the ultimate resource because he’s seeing it from the perfect angle and he’s done it for so long and is one of the best, if not the best in the game,” said Norris. “I can learn a lot, so just wanted to talk and communicate.”
The changeup required a little more work in the session and that’s where Maddux stepped in to help.
Overseeing all four pitchers throwing, Maddux noticed that Norris was gripping the ball a little tight. After a pitch in the dirt, he stepped onto the mound with a new baseball and suggested Bud loosen the grip and “throw it like a fastball”. Norris followed instruction and then smiled with satisfaction as the ball zipped into Molina’s glove just as he wanted.
“Sometimes you’re over-analyzing a lot,” said Norris. “Be natural. Be in a state where you’re relaxed and comfortable, where you can go out and execute pitches like you know you have. You’ve done it a million times but you can’t do it when you’re stressed and tense. You’ve got to be relaxed and that’s basically what it was.”
And the instant feedback is something Norris welcomed.
“I think pitching is a craft that you never have figured out and you can learn a lot,” he said. “I think the Cardinals have done this more than other clubs where guys go watch other guys bullpens in season. I’ve always been a fan of that. I did a little bit of that in Baltimore and I’m really excited to implement that again.”
photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com