'Campfire drill' helps pitchers, catchers bond
Special exercise led to improved communication last spring
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- D-backs manager Torey Lovullo always encourages his coaching staff to come up with new drills or different ways of doing things as a way to keep Spring Training fresh.
"I give the staff an open forum," Lovullo said. "I give them the chance to tell me things they want to do, things that they're interested in and then they run it by me and if it's something that I believe in, it becomes something that's put on the schedule."
Last year, quality control coach Robby Hammock and pitching coach Mike Butcher came to Lovullo with the idea that for the days when no pitchers were throwing bullpen sessions.
They wanted pitchers to stand in front of home plate in the bullpen area and explain to the catchers sitting in folding chairs around it what pitches they liked to throw in certain situations and where they liked the catchers to set up.
It was nicknamed the "campfire drill" because of the way everyone gathers around home plate.
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"I love those things," Lovullo said. "I kind of dig the idea of guys getting to express themselves emotionally rather than fundamentally. You get to know somebody on a different level. It's built in because we want to give guys extra rest between bullpens."
After seeing improved communication between pitchers and catchers last year, the campfire drill was put back on the schedule and took place Friday at Salt River Fields.
It is even more important this year, given the new faces both on the mound at behind the plate for the D-backs.
With Patrick Corbin gone via free agency and Taijuan Walker on the shelf until June following Tommy John surgery, the D-backs have a pair of newcomers to the expected rotation in Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly.
In the bullpen, there's veteran Greg Holland who has been added to the mix along with a slew of younger hurlers that the catchers may not be familiar with yet.
"It gives each guy a visual," veteran catcher Alex Avila said about pitchers showing where they want catchers to set up. "And then if you hadn't met somebody, an introduction. It's about where they like the catcher to set up and also kind of an overview of what that guy throws. It's a lot of information at once because it's everybody in one day, but you might take one or two things away from each conversation. Then the next time you see him or the next time you catch that guy, you'll remember it, it will click."
While Avila and John Ryan Murphy return from last year, the team has a pair of new backstops in Carson Kelly and Caleb Joseph, who need to get familiar with the pitchers.
"I think it's huge, especially with where we're at with the amount of new guys that we have both behind the plate and on the mound," starting pitcher Zack Godley said. "I think it's really huge for guys to have an understanding of what pitchers like to throw and where they like to throw them and what their comfort level is. So, when you talk about it, it allows you to get an understanding and it allows for easing into a little better when you get into a game so it's not as big of a learning curve for everyone."