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Book News

Pitching, Leo's way

'Pitch like a Pro'
by Leo Mazzone and Jim Rosenthal

Tor Books, $14.95

Review by Bob Winstead

Web posted on: Tuesday, March 16, 1999 12:27:37 PM

(CNN) -- The Atlanta Braves have been to the World Series four times since 1991. They've only won one world title, but make no mistake -- this is one of the best teams in baseball, with the most wins in the major leagues since 1991. It wasn't always that way. I remember the lean times when the Braves were one of baseball's perennial jokes.

What turned them around? Among many things, manager Bobby Cox made a commitment to pitching. This commitment included bringing minor league pitching coach Leo Mazzone to the majors in 1990.

The program Mazzone brought to the Braves was notable because he was able to consistently keep pitchers healthy, and the results have been extraordinary. (It didn't hurt to have some pitchers that would become future Cy Young Award winners.) The Braves pitching staff has ranked first or second in earned run averages since 1991.

Now this program is in Mazzone's new book "Pitch like a Pro". If you are an aspiring pitcher or a baseball coach at any level -- from Little League to the pro's -- there are many, many gems in this short book. Mazzone keeps things simple and to the point. If you want healthy pitchers, keep them throwing.

His advice: "Go to the ballfield every day. Throw a baseball every day ... The key is to be consistent and throw every day."

Simple advice, powerful results.

Mazzone scripts out the program he uses with his pitchers -- you know, guys like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Denny Neagle. And these pitchers tell you how they feel about these programs.

Says John Smoltz: "The idea of throwing a lot has always made a lot of sense to me. I'm the kind of guy who likes to repeat skills often enough to feel comfortable with them ..."

"Go to the ballfield every day. Throw a baseball every day ... The key is to be consistent and throw every day."

-- Leo Mazzone

Mazzone covers the basics, like how to grip a baseball to throw certain pitches; fast balls, breaking balls, and change ups. Mazzone doesn't use curves or sliders, he is just after a quality breaking ball.

"In other words, the way we teach it with the Braves, the curve ball and slider, become virtually one pitch -- what we refer to as a quality breaking ball."

Mazzone talks about the mechanics and delivery of these pitches, and uses examples from his world class staff:

"Glavine and Maddux unload the pitch from a high three-quarter to overhand unloading position..."

"A delivery has to be coordinated and precise so that everything comes together when you release the ball."

Mazzone also discusses the strategy of pitching, and what pitch fits which situations. "When you're behind in the count 2-1 or 3-1, you don't want to sacrifice stuff for location. I hammer on this point all the time with young pitchers. Be firm and throw a good fast ball, change-up, or breaking ball. Never throw a get-me-over pitch in those counts because you'll get ripped to shreds."

He talks about how to play the position on defense, when fielding bunts and while backing up the bases, and gives exercises to physically condition a pitcher to peak performance. Then he closes the book by sharing his private thoughts on great pitchers, and his personal opinions on other baseball issues.

"The objective is to coach with energy, enthusiasm, and compassion. This applies to the young pitcher who tends to be very emotional; it applies to a coach in understanding the personality of the players, knowing what tone of voice to use. Emotions play a big part in how a pitch is going to be thrown, and this is as true for Little League pitchers as it is for veteran major leaguers."

If you want to learn how to pitch, coach a pitching staff, or develop your talent, why reinvent the wheel? Learn from the best. Leo Mazzone has proven his system works. The hard part will be hiding this book from your competition.

Bob Winstead works for CNN News Features and coaches Little League baseball in the Atlanta area.

The Atlanta Braves are owned by Time Warner, which is also the parent company of CNN Interactive.

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