How running prepares pitchers for game day

Manager Dusty Baker likes to see his starting pitchers running to stay at a premium physical level for the entire season. He pointed to his Cy Young Award-winning starter Max Scherzer as the pitcher that most incorporates running into his routine to get ready for each start.

Baker said it was something he noticed from his old Dodgers teammates, and others around the league back in the day, and it has stayed with him for his entire career as a player and manager.

“All of them ran back then,” Baker said. “You see a boxer. A boxer does road work. Am I right? You don’t see him doing a treadmill, you see him doing road work.

“I saw Ferguson Jenkins run line to line the whole nine innings of a spring training game and they wonder why he went 300 innings (and win) 20 games (four) years in a row (1968-1971). I saw Don Sutton, Tommy John, all the Dodgers ran - Rick Sutcliffe, Bob Welch, they all ran. They’d run when I’m coming in the stadium, 3:30 p.m., 4 p.m. And then when I come out for batting practice, they’d be coming back from running.”

Jenkins bookended those 300-inning campaigns with a pair of seasons where he pitched 289 1/3 innings. He had a glorious career that spanned 19 years and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Baker turned to some of his young Nationals starters last season and told them to follow Scherzer’s lead. He also reached out to Joe Ross and Jacob Turner this year.

max-scherzer-clap-gray.jpg“That’s what I told Joe Ross: They ran and swam,” Baker said. “I want you to run some more. I believe in lifting weights. I had weights in my house for the last 30 years. But you also got to run, swim or something to stay linear. I told (Lucas) Giolito when he was here to follow Max. I see (Jacob) Turner is following Max. And then Giolito came back in like he was about to die. That old man just ran him into the ground. So if they got in a fight, who do you think would win?”

Baker joked that you don’t really see young players running as much as he saw when he was playing.

“I tell all kids (to) run,” Baker said. “If you see a kid running down the street, you think he stole something. Am I right? He got to be running from something.”

Turner says he believes incorporation running into his routine leading up to a start or a bullpen call is crucial to his success.

“Well, I definitely think it’s important, first of all,” Turner said. “I think each guy is different. With all the data we have now, I think some guys focus more on sprint type work, some guys focus more on doing stairs in the stadium, some guys focus more on going out there and running for 30 minutes or an hour, whatever it may be. I think its individual to the player on what you feel like you need.

“Obviously, if you are going to go out there and throw 100, 120 pitches, you need to be in pretty good shape to be able to do that.”

Turner said he tweaks his routine before games based on what he wants to accomplish on the mound. At 25, he is actually a veteran now in the world of game preparation. In his years in the majors, Turner has taken notice of what veterans like Scherzer do to get ready for each start.

“You always making adjustments within your routine,” he noted. “For me if I’m starting my preparation is going to be quite a bit different than throwing out of the bullpen and being ready to go every day.

“Max is obviously a good indicator of pretty much anything. Anybody that wins a Cy Young you can learn something from.”

Turner said he runs in the stadium and on the outfield grass which is easier on his legs. He also incorporates the sophisticated treadmills the Nationals have that take the pressure of his joints.

“You try to utilize all those tools,” he said. “Obviously, the more strong you can be, the harder you are going to throw, the more stamina you are going to have. It is important.”

Scherzer said running is one of the important parts of getting his body ready for the rigors of a full season.

“Pitchers got to be complete athletes,” Scherzer said. “I know we get a bad rep of not being athletes. But you got to lift heavy, you got to lift all parts of your body and you got to run and have the type of conditioning for every single type of run there is: You need distance runs, you need interval runs and you need sprints. You got to be an athlete on the mound out there, in my opinion.

“I definitely get distance in to make sure I have a good flush run, not only for my body, but also to just have that type of stamina to be able to run at a certain high level pace for a long time. I feel you need that as a pitcher because that’s what, as a starting pitcher, that is what you are required to do. You are trying to throw as many pitches as you can as hard as you can. You need at least one day of running that mimics that.”

Scherzer runs long distances, but he also runs sprints. He said it’s not only important for pitching, but also his offensive game. It is amazing to see a pitcher run from first to home during a particularly big inning and then have to quickly jump back on the mound the next half inning and throw strikes.

“As a starting pitcher (in the National League), you run the bases,” Scherzer said. “I take pride in running the bases as much as anything. If you are out there running the bases hard, you have to have that type of conditioning level that as soon as you are done running the bases, you are not out of breath or you are not winded - you can go right back into what you were doing the next few pitches. That’s very important to have.”

Scherzer got hit in his last start on a comebacker to the mound, which can happen to any pitcher at any time. He has been able to recover well and has had his start pushed back to Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. But he won’t miss a start. Having a strong overall body and core has to have played a major part of that recovery and the ability to sustain strength for 35 games each season.

“I think every part of your body has got to be strong,” Scherzer said. “I think you need strong chest, strong core, strong biceps, you need everything strong. The only thing I don’t do is I don’t do anything overhead.”

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