For a pitcher, practice in the bullpen is typically a pressure-free atmosphere, an opportunity to work on control and composure without the intensity of a real game. But lately, for junior Missouri softball pitcher Kristen Nottelmann, one mistake in bullpen could earn a number of consequences.
Leave a changeup high in the zone? That’s a couple of laps around the field. Pitches aren’t spinning well? Could be time for crunches. It’s a reward-punishment system that assistant coach Pete D’Amour said is a necessary evil.
“It’s just enough not to hurt her, but enough for her to get ticked off when she has to do it,” D’Amour said. “When you push Kristen, that’s when she responds better. ”
The intense practice sessions are part of an effort by the coaching staff to improve Nottelmann’s mindset during games. After leading the pitching staff last season, Nottelmann has taken a bit of a backseat to sophomore phenomenon Chelsea Thomas. Coach Ehren Earleywine said the drop in innings has clashed with her pitching style and affected her intensity.
“It’s been tough on her because she really develops as she pitches live in games,” Earleywine said. “Since we’ve started throwing Chelsea more, Kristen just hasn’t pitched like she’s capable of pitching. She’s not in peak condition, she still has more improving to do.”
Although her numbers (12-1, 1.92 ERA) seem solid, Nottelmann has shown some signs of struggle with her game recently. She was in the circle for Missouri’s 9-3 loss to North Texas two weeks ago, when she got shelled for nine runs on seven hits over six innings. Her outings since have been stronger, but she admits more work is left to do.
“It’s all about baby steps,” Nottelmann said. “You try and build your confidence up a little bit, and I feel like these last few outings that’s what I’ve been practicing and working on doing. You’re not going to have a perfect game every time, and sometimes you’re going to get roughed up more than others. But you’ve gotta make sure you bounce back…to where you were.”
Part of that process is the work she’s done in practice. In addition to the bullpen work, Nottelmann has thrown live against Missouri hitters to try and simulate a real game mentality. Although she said it’s increased her intensity “about 50 percent,” Nottelman said the onus is on her to change the rest of her mentality.
“It’s very difficult to try and get the intensity level to where it is in a game, and that’s the main focus of what they’re trying to get me to do,” Nottelmann said. “I still have to try and turn up that mental notch just a little more, because I know that even though it doesn’t matter if they hit it over the fence (in practice), I still have to change my thinking to ‘it does matter.’”
Both Earleywine and D’Amour acknowledged that Nottelmann has been responding well to the tweaked practice sessions, and Nottelmann said she’s willing to do what it takes to embrace her new role successfully.
“I’m just trying to practice my role, be in the bullpen and come in when I’m needed,” Nottelmann said. “I don’t mind not throwing that many innings, it’s not like my main focus is (needing) all of these innings. It’s to help my team in whatever way is going to get them to win.”