Tag Archives: Effort

Notre Dame’s Ristano expects his pitchers to be aggressive

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Chuck Ristano sees it, delivering a baseball from 60 feet, 6 inches is not passive.

That’s why the pitching coach in his 10th year at the University of Notre Dame takes an active approach with his young athletes.

“Pitching development is a fight,” says Ristano, who was a presenter at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville hosted by Greg Vogt. “It’s aggressive.”

Ristano uses an assessment with his ND arms he calls MMA — Mechanics, Metrics, Arm.

Ristano’s priorities for mechanics:

Establish an efficient/repeatable delivery.

“If you can repeat in an efficient manner we can, hopefully, keep you healthy and put the baseball where you want it,” says Ristano. “There’s not a lot of starts and stops. Once we start, we go.”

“To me, it lacks pauses and slow deliberate actions. Speeding the delivery up is usually one of the adjustments we make before we talk about arm path, hip and shoulder separation and what we look like at foot strike.”

Ristano uses the analogy of riding a bike to talk about funneling energy to home plate.

“I want the energy to go forward,” says Ristano. “If I ride slow and deliberate, I wobble.

“If I ride that line with some pace and stay in control, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to stay on a straight line.”

• Establish dynamic balance.

• Pitch athletically.

“You don’t want to take the venom out of the snake,” says Ristano. “You’re a good athlete and you need to pitch that way.

“The worst label you can get as an amateur or a high school player is the P.O. (pitcher only). It’s the most disgusting verbiage you can have for a pitching coach.

“The game doesn’t go until (the pitcher) decides it does. You start to label yourself into the P.O. mentality, you limit your athleticism.

“We want guys to behave and move athletically and pitch accordingly.”

• Glove in front of chest at release (proper blocking technique).

“We think about breaking the body in half,” says Ristano. “The front side is the steering wheel. The back side is the accelerator.”

Ristano teaches a “shadow sequence” where the delivery is broken down into six phases:

• Low balance. It’s the beginning of the leg lift.

• Dynamic balance. It comes at the peak.

• Hand separation. When the pitcher starts to come down toward the belt buckle.

• Power position/foot strike. Achieve symmetry with the lead and throwing arms.

• Release. Tension on the back side become energy on the front side.

• Finish. This is where the blocking technique comes in. The back foot comes off the ground and front side is firmed up.

In practice, pitchers of drills were they get to each of the phases to test their strengths and weaknesses and gain a feel for their delivery.

“If you want to find where the inefficiency in the delivery is, do it backward (finish to release to power position/foot strike to hand separation to dynamic balance to low balance),” says Ristano. “It’s a little weird. We call it ‘back shaping.’

“Some of these are monotonous, but they can really help if you do it right.”

Ristano also has his hurlers do three core drills:

• 3-pump balance. The quad is lifted three times before a throw is made. It helps to hit delivery check points. Energy is collected. The front foot comes off the ground. It is done at the pace of the delivery.

• Trace/retrace. There is a toe tap, the ball is brought back to the middle and then the throw is made. A trace is made from balance to power to balance. The energy stays over the back quad at landing. At toe tap, the throwing arm should be at peak height to be one time in the release zone.

• Kershaw’s/Houston’s. Based on social media visuals, including those of Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, pitchers doing this drill get to the lowest point in their delivery and pause before they go forward. After that, the front hip goes and the sequencing toward home plate begins. The cues are: Hip, heel, toe, knee.

There’s also a drill that Ristano has called “El Duque’s” based on the delivery of former big league pitcher Orlando Hernandez.

“We throw from the ground up,” says Ristano. “We use the ground to go forward.

How quickly can I get that lower body going and force my upper body to catch up.”

Additional throwing drills (with purpose):

• One-hop drill (extension, release point and athleticism).

• Softball catch (extension and manipulation of spin).

• Maestro (Scap load, hand speed and opposite/equal).

• Weighted glove (stable front side and back side).

• Figure-8’s (hand speed).

Ristano says he has become a real believer in mechanical development via strength and share some statistics.

Reading an MLB.com article from two years ago, Ristano saw that the average height of an American male was 5-foot-10, yet 14 MLB teams didn’t have a pitcher under 6 feet tall.

The New York Yankees had one pitcher under 6-2 and boast five pitchers at least 6-7. The St. Louis Cardinals had eight pitchers 6-4 or taller. The Kansas City Royals were the only team in baseball with five pitchers 6 feet or under.

Of the top 50 pitchers of the last decade, less than five were 200 pounds or less.

“I know you can’t do much to manipulate your height,” says Ristano. “What’s my actionable data?

“I show this to my guys not because ‘mass equals gas.’ But pitchers today are men.

“As you develop, it’s important what training values you choose.

“(Strength and conditioning) is your new modality to get better. Sometimes when you’re having trouble throwing strikes, the key sometimes is not some wild mechanical adjustment. Sometimes it’s just that you lack the strength to be able to execute the highest angular velocity movements — the pitching delivery — that the world knows 100 times in a game and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it.

“You’ll be shocked once you start to hammer the strength and conditioning component, how well your body begins to align even when you’re not thinking about mechanics.

“It works for us.”

Kyle Jean is the strength and conditioning coach for the Irish.

Ristano says that developing the entire kinetic chain is taught at Notre Dame.

A native of Valley Stream, N.Y., and left-hander who pitched at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., certain workouts were not done when Ristano was in college.

“We didn’t touch the upper body,” says Ristano. “We pulled more than we pushed.

“There’s some validity to that to this day still, but we build guys who are big, tough and capable of withstanding 14, 15 or 16 starts if we’re going to pitch in Omaha (at the College World Series.”

Ristano says the earlier a pitcher can adopt this routine, the easier is will be for them.

ND pitchers use many tools including MediBall medicine balls.

Ristano makes these points regarding the value of metrics:

• Quantify what the eye sees.

• Validation of what we already know.

• Seeing some of what we don’t know.

“I know that not everybody has access to Rapsodo, TrackMan, Edgertronic,” says Ristano. “But it will become part of everybody’s development plan.”

ND’s director of baseball operations, who is now Steven Rosen, gives reports to the coaches after every outing and the data is shared with the players.

“What I look at immediately if I’m evaluating metrics is pitch movements (what are my pitches doing?),” says Ristano. This involves vertical and horizontal break plus spin efficiency rates and velocity. “You don’t just track it in singular entities. You have to track it over time to maximize the effectiveness of it.”

As for the arm, Ristano says conditioning is key and that the kinetic chain can break anywhere.

“If you don’t train your body holistically, you’re not conditioning yourself to be today’s pitcher,” says Ristano, who adds a caution. “When you get the benefit of throwing harder, you absorb the risk that angular velocities increase and you become more susceptible, unfortunately, to injury. How many guys throw 100 (mph) now vs. 10 years ago?

“You’ve got to be willing to adapt your training modalities and condition the entire body if you’re going to accept the gift of throwing harder.”

Ristano says low-intensity throwing can build feel for a pitcher.

The coach likes his hurlers to be able to spin the baseball at a low intensity and distance.

“You want to develop secondary stuff,” says Ristano. “Can I pronate from me to you (when playing catch) and still put the ball in your center of mass?”

Ristano says the bottom line is getting people out. That’s the job function.

“You need to learn how to build feel,” says Ristano. “The feel is the deal.”

There must be a time off from throwing.

“A rest period is worthless if you don’t get four weeks off at a time,” says Ristano, noting that time off from throwing doesn’t mean time off from training.

Most ND pitchers stopped throwing two weeks ago and won’t begin again until the second or third week of December. The Irish open the 2020 season on Feb. 14.

Ristano says the Irish long toss and it looks different depending on whether it’s in-season or out-of-season.

In-season, the pitcher is building to his next outing. Out-of-season, they can let it fly. Some throw 300 feet or more.

It’s a two-part phase in long toss — stretching out (aggressive with the lower half and easy with the arm).

Once at peak distance (which varies from day to day), Ristano says his pitchers spend as much time coming in as they do going out.

“I go from aggressive lower half and easy arm to aggressive lower half and aggressive arm,” says Ristano. “I keep those throws at eye level.

“That’s how you build arm strength with the long toss.”

Ristano talked about the progression of Notre Dame pitchers from preseason to season:

• Arm regeneration phase (late October to early December).

• End-of-semester throwing packet.

• Return to campus ready to hit the mound.

• Separation of roles (build up pitch count and get comfortable pitching in relief roles).

A sample week for an ND’s Friday night starter looks like this:

• Friday (pitch live with postgame flush cardio and recovery bands).

• Satruday (optional throwing with sprints, post game charts and lower body work).

• Sunday (long toss and MediBall circuit).

• Monday (short bullpen, intermediate cardio, postgame video review and total body work).

• Tuesday (drills, sprints and MediBall circuit).

• Wednesday (bullpen and intermediate cardio).

• Thursday (optional throwing).

This past fall, the first new Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett, pitchers did not go above 50 pitches per outing. Appearances were prioritized over building up pitches and innings.

“What are we building up to?,” says Ristano. “We don’t need a guy to throw six innings in October.”

After the season, Irish pitchers receive the following:

• Full assessment of performance (see season summary).

• Clear directives on what needs to improve.

• Determination of what is best for your summer (continue pitching, rest, strengthening etc.).

Rest the arm is key for collegians and high schoolers alike.

“Be confident enough in who you are to take some time off,” says Ristano. “The bullets you fire at 15, 16, 17 years old, you don’t know the damage it potentially does until that kid’s 20 years old and he’s becoming a man.

“I’m not laying the arm injuries on the high school coaches because we are just as responsible. We bring guys back on short rest. We try to go to the College World Series. Big league baseball has its starters pitching the bullpen.

“When you’re 16, you don’t need to start Friday, pitch in relief Tuesday and start Friday again.”

Notre Dame emphasizes and charts getting ahead in the count and being efficient.

“We want to get the at-bat over in three pitches or less (A3P),” says Ristano. “We’ve tracked this for four years. We know that with a first-pitch strike, 72 percent of the time we get a positive outcome. When we executive an A3P, 75 percent of the time it results in a positive outcome.”

Ristano offers a final “M” — Mentality:

• Identity (what we want to be, how we want to be viewed).

• Culture (how we go about our business).

“How do we handle our business?,” says Ristano. “From the outside looking in, what would you take away from watching the Notre Dame pitching staff.

“We embrace each guy’s individuality. But we have to respect the standards of the group.”

Ristano says there are three parts to pitching the “Notre Dame Way.”

“We want to work fast, pitch offensively and project confidence,” says Ristano. “It’s very simple. It has nothing to do with our velocity.”

The Irish play in the very competitive Atlantic Coast Conference with a top-notch non-conference schedule.

“You do not out-think hitters in the ACC,” says Ristano. “You do not out-think hitters in most of college baseball.

“What do you do? You out-execute hitters. At this level, we prioritize pitch execution over selection. You throw the pitch you want to throw. I call pitches and let our guys shake (off the sign). But, at the end of the day, the well-executed pitch that was wrong is better than the poorly-executed pitch that was correct.”

It’s about developing young men who attack their work with ferocity.

“If you’re ready to go, suffocate the opposition,” says Ristano. “Press. Press. Press.

“It keeps the defense engaged. It’s a thing of beauty when you have a guy who’s throwing strikes. It’s disgusting when you have a guy who is not.”

Ristano says he is proud of be part of the state’s baseball community.

“I get that our locker room is populated by kids from 17 different states,” says Ristano. “But, yes, we have to do a really, really good job in the state of Indiana

“(Notre Dame is) a unique place that has unique standards aside from whether or not you can play.”

Ristano encourages coaches to “be a thief.”

“Learn something from everybody,” says Ristano, who still repeats ideas he heard at his first coaches clinic from Oklahoma City University head coach Denney Crabaugh. “Be willing to share and ask questions. Ego is the enemy.

“Be confident in what you do. We’re not all right and we’re not all wrong. What we do works for us.

“If you’re not comfortable teaching it, it makes it really hard to get buy-in from your players.”

Ristano says great pitchers think:

• 9 vs. 1 mentality.

“The deck is stacked in your favor as a pitcher,” says Ristano.

• Focus on what they can control.

• Embrace pressure situations.

• One pitch at a time mentality.

• Focus on solutions over problems.

• Embrace competition and don’t use how they feel/mechanics as a crutch.

These are the conduct standards at Notre Dame:

• Best effort in everything that you do.

• Bring energy. Also be vigilant against those who suck the energy out of us (gravity vs. energy).

“We don’t want the gravity to pull us down, we want the energy to pull us up,” says Ristano. “Are you a fountain or a drain?”

• Expect the best, don’t hope for it.

• Value what you project to the world (body language).

“Have some energy,” says Ristano. “If you don’t have it, fake it. It really matters. Somebody’s always watching.”

• Take advantage of additional development opportunities.

You want to be great? Do stuff that’s pitching-related but doesn’t actually consist of the actual throwing mechanics — MediBall stuff, video review, low-intensity throwing.

• Honest/constructive dialogue between teammates (as well as players and coaches).

“Spoiler alert: Your parents don’t give you honest/construct dialogue,” says Ristano. “At the end of the day, talk your coach. He’s there for a reason.

“What do I need to do to be better. There has to be an element of trust in your circle.”

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Chuck Ristano enters his 10th season as pitching coach for the University of Notre Dame baseball team in 2020. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

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Chuck Ristano, the baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame, takes an aggressive approach with his staff. He wants them to train and execute with ferocity. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

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Chuck Ristano is entering his 10th season as baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame. He is now working with new head coach Link Jarrett. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

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Gameday mentality fuels Frame-coached Huntington U. Foresters

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team can’t control the wintry weather and the fact that they have to do almost all of their practicing indoors so far in 2019.

But the Foresters won’t use that as an alibi.

Mike Frame, who is in his 35th season as HU head coach, won’t let that happen.

“We’re not going to use it as an excuse,” says Frame, who has had his players working out inside the Merillat Complex fieldhouse when it’s been too cold or wet to use Forest Glen Park. “It’s the hand that we’ve been dealt so we have to make the most of it.”

Years ago, Frame and close friend Tom Roy (who is now co-head coach at Grace College) came up with ACE. The acronym stands for Attitude, Concentration, Effort. It’s something the student-athletes can control everyday.

“For me, it goes beyond playing baseball,” says Frame, a member of the Huntington University Athletics, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Northeast Indiana Baseball Association halls of fame. “We talk to these young men from the time we recruit them that attitude, concentration and effort is something take you with you when you leave. Someday you’re going to be an employee and the employer is going to want somebody with a great attitude, great concentration and great effort.

“Someday there’s going to be a young lady that would like to have a husband with those qualities and a little boy or little girl that would like to have a father with those qualities.

“Let’s control the things that we can control.”

The Foresters’ schedule called for first 20 road games to be played on the road.

Of that number, a dozen were contested and Huntington split them, including one win against NAIA No. 19-ranked University of the Cumberlands and two against No. 22 Taylor University. The home opener against Spring Arbor University was moved to the turf at Logansport High School, where a 6-5 win was achieved for 7-6 start to the campaign.

“We have to prepare to go out and play right away against really good competition,” says Frame. “We have to make sure what we do in (the fieldhouse) translates outside whether we’ve been on the field or not.”

Practices are conducted at a high tempo.

“We have to have a gameday mentality in all that we do,” says Frame. “That’s one of the reasons we practice with uniforms on, guys hit with helmets on.”

Because Frame believes baseball was not meant to be played indoors, player earn their positions in the fall. He does not play favorites.

“The best player is going to play.,” says Frame “What year you are in school doesn’t matter.”

What makes Crossroads League baseball so strong?

“There’s some stability at the top in terms of coaching,” says Frame, noting his own longevity and that of Mount Vernon Nazarene’s Keith Veale (30th season) and Taylor’s Kyle Gould (15th season). “Those coaches are working at it.”

Frame says the league is made up of similar schools in terms of resources, scholarship money and the like. Member schools tend to be faith-based with a strong focus on academics.

“We have to ask how they can handle things at a Christian school and academically before we ever look at (athletic) ability,” says Frame.

HU pitching coach Brian Abbott is in his second go-around at Huntington after a stint at league member Indiana Wesleyan.

“It’s a very competitive league,” says Abbott. “These teams compete at a very high level.”

The league has produced professional players and former IWU pitcher Brandon Beachy made it all the way to the big leagues.

Former Huntington player Dalton Combs spent the past two seasons as an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“You can get to professional baseball from a small school,” says Abbott, who is also executive director of the IHSBCA. “It might be a little easier as a pitcher. A position player needs to be outside with the at-bats and the ground balls that are harder (to come by) in this weather.”

The winner of the Crossroads League regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament will receive automatic bids to the NAIA Opening Round. If the winner of the regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament are the same team, the second place team from the tournament will be awarded the second automatic bid.

Senior outfielder Donovan Clark (Fort Wayne South Side High School graduate), senior right-handed pitcher D.J. Moore (Homestead), senior first baseman/designated hitter Adam Roser (Northfield), junior right-hander Mason Shinabery (Bellmont), junior left-hander Alex McCutcheon (Huntington North) are part of the current Huntington mix.

All come together for a common cause but with a different perspective.

Clark, who played high school baseball for head coach Sheldon Van Pelt, was on the football team at Indiana University before a back injury ended his career in that sport. With friends Will Coursen-Carr and Tyler Zimske playing baseball at Huntington, he decided to switch his focus to the diamond.

What is the difference between NCAA Division I football and NAIA baseball?

“Baseball — in general — is more mental,” says Clark, who went from defensive back to center fielder. “In football, if you don’t have a tackle, interception or impact the game in some way, you’re not considered the best player on the field.”

The Forester Way has a familiar feel to Clark, who is scheduled to graduate this spring with a business marketing degree.

“It’s a small school,” says Clark. “But the program here goes about things in a big school way. We have a strength coach (Scott Craft).”

With all the indoor workouts, Clark has been getting some reps with the infielders to stay busy and learn something new.

“It’s difficult to come inside and go outside and play a game,” says Clark. “But we’ve done a good job of adapting to it. I’m proud of the team.”

Moore, who played at Homestead for Steve Sotir, has noticed the change between high school and college baseball.

“There’s a big difference,” says Moore. “For one, the game speeds up tremendously. Everybody becomes bigger and stronger. Everybody has better eyes at the plate. When you first come in, you’re facing guys who are three or four years older than you.

“The biggest thing is execution and knowing I can’t just throw the ball over the plate without a purpose like I did in high school. I have to actually hit my spots and have a plan.”

The Crossroads League provides a challenge from top to bottom.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this league,” says Moore. “You’ll have ranked team. You’ll have teams receiving votes. You’ll have teams not even close to receiving votes that will still find a way to win. Any team can come out to play and win. There’s not any dominant team in this whole league.”

Moore has learned how to balance academics and athletics.

“It’s a difficult process, but it’s bearable,” says Moore. “It’s about getting your studies done before practice and keeping in-touch with professors. They understand how busy we are in the spring.”

Moore, a sport management major, says Frame encourages his players to take a heavier course load in the fall, maybe 16 or 17 hours and 12 in the spring with as many morning classes as possible.

Tradition attracted more to Huntington.

“Coach knows what he’s doing,” says Moore. “He’s coached here more than half his life. He’s got a great attitude about things and makes us work hard.”

Roser appreciates the approach and the time spent before practices working  ACE attributes.

“We go over Bible verses and examples of how we can be better with our attitude, concentration and effort,” says Roser. “In baseball, the best team doesn’t always win.

“If you have the right attitude and concentration and you put forth the effort, you can beat a good team no matter what kind of talent they have.”

College baseball requires a great time commitment. But Roser, who played for Tony Uggen at Northfield, knew that when he was being recruited.

“It takes awhile for people to adapt to this kind of culture with how much time we put into baseball and studying,” says Roser. “It’s like a 24-hour job almost.

“Coach Frame does a pretty good job of explaining to us what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Roser is slated to graduate this spring with a sports management degree.

Shinabery also played another position while at Bellmont, but is a pitcher-only for the Foresters. While he came out of the bullpen last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers, he’s been used as a starter for Huntington.

“I have a routine,” says Shinabery. “I know when I’m going to pitch. I just make sure I’m ready to go that day.”

Having support is helpful for the pitching staff.

“Coach Abbott and Coach Frame have faith that all our pitchers can do it,” says Shinabery. “In certain situations, they don’t care who comes in. We can all throw strikes and get the job done

“Just them believing in us helps out me and our staff a lot.”

McCutcheon played his high school baseball in the same town, but began his collegiate career at Vincennes University. After a season, he transferred to Huntington and enjoys the baseball atmosphere.

“Coach Frame sets up the mentality the program has,” says McCutcheon. “We’re a blue collar team. We work hard. Coach Frame encourages toughness in everything. He makes us do things the right way.

“That’s what separates us.”

Assistant coach Thad Frame (Mike’s son) keeps practices humming by constantly reminding players at a swift pace. NAIA game rules call for 20 seconds between pitches and two minutes of warm-up between innings.

“When we pitch, Coach has a timer,” says McCutcheon. “We make sure we are always uptempo.

“Thad wants us to get out on the field as fast as we can. If the hitter is just casually putting his gloves on and we can get him off-guard. That’s an advantage for us if he’s not fully prepared.”

McCutcheon says he knows that two things important to Mike Frame are hustling and being mentally-prepared.

Each day after stretching, players are led through visualization.

“Coach Frame has us lay down for a minute or so and clear out everything,” says McCutcheon. “You see yourself walk everything you’re thinking about out the door and get ready for practice.

“He wants our mindsets to be there everyday. That’s the most important thing for him.”

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Mike Frame is head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Brian Abbott is baseball pitching coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Donovan Clark is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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D.J. Moore is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Adam Roser is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Mason Shinabery is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Alex McCutcheon is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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