As fall arrives, so does the Major League Baseball postseason, as the Wild Card round begins on Oct. 3. As the priority and focus on winning elevates, the importance of managing the bullpen heightens.
Brandon McDaniel is the Los Angeles Dodgers vice president of player performance. As such, his role is to help bridge the gap between the coaches, strength and conditioning, and medical staff to make sure each player is at their best from a movement and performance standpoint for their position. For 12 years, he’s not only had a front-row seat to some historical performances and World Series appearances with a title coming in 2020. He’s also had an impact on some of the game’s greatest moments for an organization he considers the best in the league.
As the focus on each throw from the mound is magnified, so too is the managing of the load and recovery of those arms. As the Dodgers earned a first-round bye by winning the National League West Division, McDaniel spoke with Muscle & Fitness on some of the areas of importance around keeping arms fresh and at their strongest at this point in the season along with what some of the programming entails.
One of the most important exercises for pitchers is throwing. With the postseason approaching, McDaniel says that the focus is on making sure that every area around the arm is in good shape is equally as important.
“That’s hips, thoracic spine ankles, aiding in moving freely and ultimately having the proper range of motion and the right amount of strength, McDaniel says guys will spend a lot of time on the table, a lot of time doing their mobility exercises and continue to do a lot of strength work. We’ve paired it down at this point, volume-wise, but we’re sticking with our normal routines that we do throughout the year.”
Effects of the Pitch Clock
Major League Baseball announced they will maintain the pitch clock rules during the postseason to help continue to shorten the time of games. McDaniel says that it will probably take until after the season for them to understand just how different the speed of play affects their programming for its pitchers.
“Maybe, it’s one of those things where we drastically change the way that we condition or we drastically change our throwing programs,” he says. “In the first part of the year, the players adjusted to the new pitch clock because they had to. When we get through the season, we will definitely have a breakdown of what was different, what we noticed, and what we can ultimately influence this off-season with our conditioning programs, because I do think there’s an aerobic component to helping you recover pitch to pitch. There’s an anaerobic component to make sure that we can have the power pitch to pitch now with limited rest periods.”
Recovery looks different for each pitcher, but McDaniel says that one thing they try and avoid is a guy going from trying to get hitters out in front of 40-plus thousands to going home and sitting on their coach. There is a shoulder and forearm program with a lot of soft tissue work following a game. Blood Flow Restriction has also become a big tool for them and there is still the old trustworthy saunas and cold, and hot tubs.
“Ultimately, we try to get them some HMB (hydroxymethylbutrate) and some glutamine and other NSF-certified supplements,” McDaniel says. “We will make them post-game shakes so that we’re replenishing their carbohydrate, and calorie stores that they had beforehand. We also want to give them something to make sure they get some good sleep. That can be theanine, melatonin, magnesium, and a NSF-certified supplement.”
Volume and frequency of workouts will be scaled back during the postseason as a team will rely on who is throwing the best. So, when a pitcher does go through their workout during the postseason, the intensity might be a little higher but within reason.
“Professional players are extremely consistent and a lot of times the workouts—obviously they’re providing strength and conditioning, stamina, mobility, stability, power — they provide this mental checkpoint of like; I usually feel this way during my routine, and this time I feel really good or I feel a little bit worse,” McDaniel says. “If we back off of volume and frequency, we might make it a little more intense within reason so that it’s not going to shock their system and make them sore going into the start.”
- Ankles: Pitchers have to have enough ankle dorsiflexion to stay over the rubber and set your lower half up for success. Ankle Pails and Rails from FRC (functional range conditioning) are a great choice to get a good amount of active ankle dorsiflexion and stability throughout the pattern. Pitchers stand up feeling like they have a new sense of their lower body. 30 seconds of active closed chain ankle dorsiflexion (create as much tension as you can in your body), 30 seconds of active open chain ankle dorsiflexion, 30 seconds of passive ankle dorsiflexion (think deep stretch) repeat on the other side.
- Quad hip flexor stretch with a mobility stick: Back foot on the bench. Back knee on a pad. Back side arm is on the stick as high as it can go. Actively squeeze the back cheek. Actively pull the stick down. 5-second hold, 1-second break. Create as much tension as you can. Repeat for 1 minute and then switch sides.
- 3D strap split stance t-spine rotation: Switch legs and rotate on both ipsilateral and contralateral sides. 10 reps on each side. Repeat on the other side. (40 total reps)
- Foam roll wall walks with unilateral lift-off: Tighten the core and roll the roller on the forearms all the way up the wall. Using the scapular/posterior upper back, lift the right arm off creating a posterior tilt of the scapula, and repeat on the other side. 10 total rolls and 10 total lift-offs on each side.
Brandon McDaniel’s Workout Routine for Pitchers
- Reverse lunge w/1 rack kettlebell into step up onto 18-inch box: 3 sets of 8 lunges and 8 stepups (each leg).
Stop and pause at the top of the stepup every time. This is a strength and conditioning exercise that will get a solid heart rate response.
- Split Stance Sorinex Jammer Rotational Press: (You can use a landmine as well)
Pause at the end range and do a slow eccentric pattern. Think 0-2-4.
- Bird Dog Row on bench w/ DB: 3 sets, 8 reps each side
- Water Bag Single Leg RDL w/closed chain Hip: (Internal and External rotation, 3 sets, 8 reps each
- Step Back Med ball Scoop Tosses: 3 sets, 8 reps each side
- Walking elbow to instep 1 set, 10 reps (each side)
- Lateral sway 1 set, 10 reps
- Stability Ball Hamstring matrix (straight leg lift, curl, bent knee bridge): 1 set, 10 reps
- Dynamic Clamshell side plank: 1 set, 10 reps
- Side-lying T-Spine Rotation w/block )at L5): 1 set, 10 reps