The obvious answer to my statement is throwing a shutout is great because you will more than likely win the game. Only if your team is having trouble scoring runs, is there a chance you may be in trouble. But I’m not necessarily talking about games, more about innings.
There are two instances when it is imperative a starting pitcher has to limit the opposition to zero runs. The first situation is the first inning, especially if you are the home team. Not allowing your opponent to score a run in the first inning is a big boost to your teammates.
It can be devastating to a team to be behind before the first at-bat. While there is plenty of the game remaining, if your pitcher gives up four or five (or more) runs in the first, it can almost feel as if the game is already out of reach – especially at the collegiate or professional level.
A starting pitcher has to be just as, if not more focused, in the first inning. Most teams will send their three best hitters to bat in the first inning, so a pitcher has to be ready.
The other situation it is important to shutout an opponent is any inning after your team scores a run – especially if you score multiple runs. Recording a quick three outs can boost confidence and keep the momentum that is gained from an offensive outburst.
In a perfect world, a pitcher should hope that every inning on the mound requires this focus. That would mean your team is scoring plenty of runs.
Games are won and lost in the inning that proceeds scoring. If you, as the pitcher, are able to “throw up a zero,” your teammates can get on a roll and it is likely your team’s offensive output will steamroll.
But what if you get into trouble? Realistically, you aren’t going to pitch flawlessly every time your team scores. But you have to limit the damage.
Once your team builds a lead, you have to pitch well – whatever it takes to keep the lead. Giving a lead back after your team goes ahead can have a negative effect on the morale of your teammates.
I am the assistant coach at a small university. In one of our final games of the 2010 collegiate season, we needed to win two of our final three games to clinch a berth in the conference tournament. The games were against our biggest rival, who had clinched a berth and was fighting to host the tournament.
We were down five to three going into the top of the fourth. We scored nine runs in the top of the fourth to go ahead 12 to 5. In the bottom of the fourth, we immediately gave back six runs and let our opponent back in the game.
The game went back and forth the rest of the way and we ended up losing by a final score of 22-18 (you have to love college baseball and metal bats). We lost two of three and missed the conference tournament by one game.
I firmly believe that if we would have limited our opposition to zero runs in the bottom of that fourth inning, we would have won the game.
In these situations, pitching well doesn’t happen by placing any additional pressure on you. It occurs by focusing on pitching well and not becoming comfortable because your team has given you a big lead.
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