Pitching is what gets the action started on any baseball diamond. It may look easy, but it's much more than just having a catch. It's a complex throw that takes a lot of practice to get right. Oftentimes, you'll see more than one pitcher come to the mound in one game as teams often have over ten pitchers on their roster. It involves speed, accuracy, and knowing the batter at the plate. It also comes with quite a few rules, we'll walk you through them.
All pitches start on the mound, from the pitching rubber or strip. You'll often see a pitcher pick one leg up, step forward, and release the ball. The other leg, called the pivot foot, must stay on the pitching rubber as the ball is thrown in order for the pitch to be considered legal. This means pitchers can't take a running start and ensures that every pitch is coming from the same distance.
Pitchers are allowed to step off of the rubber to take signs from the catcher, but must have their hands at their sides while doing this.
When runners are on base, there are a few things pitchers can't do, those illegal actions are known as balks. For example, the pitcher can't fake a pitch or a throw to a base to try to confuse a runner. This is so pitchers can't purposefully deceive runners. Pitchers must make their actions known; they must step toward the base they plan to throw to and must be facing the batter when pitching. Pitchers can't let the ball drop out of their glove, remove their hand from the ball once set in place or fake a throw when they don't have the ball. Ambidextrous pitchers must make it known which hand they're pitching with.
In the case of a balk called by an umpire, the ball is dead and each runner gets to advance one base. If the bases are empty and a balk is called on the pitcher, a ball is added to the batter's count.
There are only two pitching positions allowed in a regulation baseball game that can be used interchangeably: windup position and set position. From these positions, pitchers are allowed to make any natural motion to get the ball over the plate.
A pitcher in windup position will start with both hands in front, one foot on the pitching rubber and the other foot free. In this position, the pitcher will face the batter, take a step with the free foot and then throw the ball without interruption. The free foot can be either in front of, behind or next to the pitching rubber. From this position, a pitcher can throw to a base, pitch to the batter, or walk off of the mound. This is most often used when there are no runners on base, as it takes longer.
This throwing motion looks exactly as it sounds; the pitcher will start standing straight up and wind up by bringing the ball over his head and stepping to the side, kick his leg up, then throw the pitch. This wind up gives a pitch more power.
Also known as stretch, a pitcher in set position will start with both hands in front, with one foot on the pitching strip and the other forward. In this position, the pitcher has to come to a complete stop when set, if runners are on base. Meaning he can move around and stretch before getting set, but must stop once in this position and then throw the ball. From this position, a pitcher can throw to a base, pitch to the batter, or step backward and walk off of the mound. This is typically used when there are runners on base, as it's quicker.
The set position gives the pitcher a bit of a head start. Unlike the windup, he'll have one foot forward, kick that front leg up, take a step and throw the ball.
Pitching isn't easy, it takes a lot of practice even for professionals. So much so, that pitchers have their own designated time to warm up before a game. Pitchers can have no more than eight pitches when they get to the mound and only one minute. Pitchers can warm up at the start of each inning and relief pitchers coming into the game can get their own set of eight pitches when they enter the game. Relief pitchers use the bullpen area on the field to warm up before they take the field.
Pitchers start the action in the game, nothing can happen if the ball isn't pitched. With this in mind, if a pitcher had an endless amount of time to throw the ball, baseball games could take all day, which is why there are rules around delays. When there is no one on the bases, pitchers only have 12 seconds between getting the ball and pitching the ball. If a pitcher takes longer than the allotted 12 seconds, a ball is added to the batter's count. The batter must be in the box and ready to receive a hit for these 12 seconds to start. Pitcher's also can't delay the game by throwing the ball to fielders when the batter is at the plate.
Managers and coaches are allowed to stop the game to come to the mound and talk to a pitcher during the game, this is called a mound visit. This is only allowed once per inning for each pitcher. Each team is allowed six visits each for nine innings. In the case of extra innings, teams can have one visit per inning. If there are two mound visits for one pitcher, that pitcher must be taken out of the game. The umpire must allow this mound time. Once allowed, the visit is limited to 30 seconds. Players leaving their positions to talk to the pitcher or the pitcher leaving the mound to talk to players also count as visits. Breaking these rules can lead to removal from the game.