Pitching prowess: How the Generals prepare for game day

Two Washington and Lee pitchers discuss their preparations for success on the mound


Tyler Murphy, ‘18, has 55 career strikeouts and has pitched over 100 innings. Photo courtesy of W&L Sports Info

Tanner Smith, Sports Writer

On the mound during a game, a baseball pitcher is the center of attention, with every eye in the stadium focused on his actions.

Meanwhile, in the background, the warm-up session for the pitcher in the bullpen is a critical part of making sure a pitcher is ready to go when he steps on the field.

The bullpen session is often different for starting pitchers than it is for relief pitchers. Starters have the luxury of using as much time as they want to prepare before a game. Relievers, however, often have to get ready to go into a game quickly.

Tyler Murphy, ‘18, has had extensive experience with both starting and relieving during his four-year career as a General, with seven starts and 37 relief appearances. He said a big difference comes in when he starts throwing before the game.

“If you are starting, you have to get the bullpen in before the game,” Murphy said, “whereas if you’re a reliever, you just have to be ready to throw a bullpen during a game. You can start 15 to 25 minutes later than when the starter has to.”

Within that bullpen session before a game, Carson McKoon, ‘20, starts out with five to ten fastballs in each session to get loose and then starts to work with his other pitches. McKoon has nine career starts for the Generals and has thrown 9.2 scoreless innings in two games started this year. He puts a heavy emphasis on his feel for his two different breaking balls, as he throws both a curveball and a slider.

“The key for me to know if I am really feeling ready is if I can consistently throw at least one of my breaking balls for strikes and if I am throwing my fastball and my changeup for strikes,” McKoon said. “I don’t really feel ready unless I am pretty consistently throwing my stuff in the zone.”

Because his curveball and slider require slightly different arm actions and grips to deliver, McKoon, like many pitchers who throw two different breaking balls, said he usually has a better feel for one or another on any given day. That feel can have a major impact on his game plan for pitch sequencing.

“If one [breaking ball] is feeling better than another, I will tell the catcher that,” McKoon said, “and tell him that if early in the count I am just trying to get a strike, I am throwing this better for a strike today so let’s throw that, or if I am ahead in the count, this is what I want to use. In general, I just kind of work off of feeling.”

In that quest to get himself ready to pitch, McKoon said he spends as long as it takes in the bullpen for him to get a good feel.

“Some days, when I am a little bit more inconsistent, it takes a little longer for me to truly feel ready,” he said. “On the days that I don’t take as long, I am ready to go. I always try to start early enough just in case it takes me awhile. There are some games when I am ready six to seven minutes before game time and I am just kind of chilling in the dugout and there are others where I am not ready until right around Anthem time. It just kind of depends.”

While McKoon focuses heavily on his two breaking balls, Murphy focuses mostly on his fastball when he is warming up to pitch.

“I am focusing on fastball command first and foremost,” Murphy said. “I might throw a few off-speed pitches to get a feel for the grip of them but generally I am just focusing on fastball command and getting my arm up to full speed to be ready to throw on the mound.”

While he said it may be tempting to try to make mechanical adjustments to his delivery if something does not feel exactly correct while he is warming up, Murphy does his best to avoid that temptation.

“I generally don’t try to make any mechanical adjustments on game day,” he said. “That’s something that I would try to work with on off-days with flat ground work. On game days, I am just trying to get ready to throw on the mound.”

The Generals, who currently hold a 7-7 record, will next take the field at 4 p.m. on March 14 at home against conference rival Eastern Mennonite.