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Behind the scenes with Mississippi State pitching coach Wes Johnson

Have you ever wondered what really goes on when the pitching coach goes out to the mound to visit his pitcher during a game? Mississippi State pitching coach Wes Johnson gives you an inside look at just that in this behind the scenes article.

According to Johnson, there are several reasons why he makes a visit to the mound to talk with his pitcher.

"There are several things that you talk about," said Johnson. "Obviously, there are times you go out to talk strategy, meaning strategy like if they have a offensive play going on or maybe they are in a bunt situation you will talk about what you want to do and another strategy is this is what we are going to do with the next two hitters.

"Going back to the first strategy, let's say there are men on first and third and one out, do we think they are going to safety squeeze? Our scouting report has shown that this guy is not a bunter but they may pinch-hit for him or are they going to try and bunt this guy? The other strategy is you talk pitch sequencing. You could have guys on base and a big power-hitter is up and it could be a tight game. You don't want him to hit one out so you talk about not getting beat on the pitch.

"A third reason is you feel like you need to go out there and see where (the pitcher is) mentally, see how their confidence is. I can remember doing that with Dakota Hudson against Oregon when we had them here at home and it was raining a little bit. He started off a little shaky that first inning. I went out there to see if he was alright because that wasn't who he was in the bullpen. I told him to get back to what he was doing in the pen with certain pitches. That day his cutter was really good. So, it was like let's throw the cutter because that is going to get you in the strikezone."

The final reason Johnson goes out to the mound is to take a pitcher out of the game. He explains the process leading up that.

"All pitchers want to stay in," he said. "They will all tell you that they want to stay in. That is why I try to read their body language. The scoreboard has their velocity but I don't watch every pitch. As the game goes on, I will have one of our other pitchers who didn't start tell me (the pitcher's) velocity range. If I see a big velocity drop, then I know something is going on, he is (likely) getting really tired.

He also utilizes the help of the catcher when making that decision.

"The catchers help, too," said Johnson. "When I am talking to (the catcher) between innings that will spark a mound visit. You look at Vanderbilt when we sent Austin Sexton back out in the seventh inning and he gave up a home run. I was talking to our catcher Elih (Marrero). He told me he was losing it a little bit and wasn't quite as sharp as he was the first five innings. But Austin is super competitive and wanted to go back out, so we sent him back out. When he gave up the home run we knew he was done, so we took him out of the game."

When Johnson goes out to the mound to take a pitcher out it is almost a sure thing that the pitcher will be coming out.

"When I am going out to make a change I would say it is about 98% set in stone that I am going to make a change," said Johnson. "There have been a couple of times when I have gone out to make a change and Coach (Cohen) and I have talked and it is like if he is ok then we are going to leave him in for one more hitter. If I feel any wavering in his body language or in his tone of voice then we will take him out."

Sometimes pitchers get a little emotional when being taken out of the game. Being the pitching coach, Johnson has to be completely professional when taking a pitcher out.

"When you make the change you take your emotions out of it," said Johnson. "When you go out to the mound you tell them that you are making a change and that you are going with someone else. You tell them that we like the matchup better for the next pitcher to get the guy out."

Johnson is not the only coach who visits a pitcher during a game. Head coach John Cohen also visits but his purpose is different than Wes'.

"When Coach (Cohen) goes out there he has a lot of positive comments that he tells the pitchers," said Johnson. "He might go out there and tell them we are behind but you are doing great. An example of that is when Konnor (Pilkington) gave up a home run against Southern Miss at Trustmark Park. Coach went out there and told him he was throwing really well, that he was alright, that his fastball was really good, that he was commanding the strikezone. He told him not to let the home run shake him."

Pitchers aren't always the only person that Johnson talks to when he visits the mound. Sometimes he says a word or two to the umpires. You might be surprised what he and the umpire talks about.

"I try to keep it light with the umpire because I want strikes," said Johnson, with a smile on his face. "So, we will joke around about different topics, maybe talk about something that happened in the game that is completely irrelevant to pitching and laugh about it. I may also ask them if everything is ok at the hotel that they are staying at. I may also thank them for everything because I walked so slow coming out to the mound.

"There also may be times when I ask them what is going on behind the plate when I think things aren't where they should be (strike-wise). But that hasn't happened this year because I don't know the umpires in this league yet. I knew the guys in the league that I came from because I knew them for five years. You know who you can approach about the strikezone and who doesn't want any part of that."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network.

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