The duel between the batter and the pitcher is one of the classic contests in sports. Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn put it succinctly: “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” On the mound, the pitcher has an array of pitches: curveball, fastball, rise-ball, splitter, slider, change-up, drop-curve. At home plate, the hitter must figure out which one of them is coming—arriving at a blink of the eye—and make contact with the ball.

Junior Alyssa Landrith, star pitcher on the Scarlet Knights softball team, and sophomore Howie Brey, the number-one starter for the Scarlet Knights baseball team, are too young to know much about Warren Spahn. But, in battling all spring for Rutgers, they appreciate his assessment. “Pitching is about confidence,” says Brey. “You tell yourself: ‘There’s no way that batter’s getting a hit.’ But the hitter is thinking: ‘I don’t care how good the pitcher is. I’m getting a hit.’”

“Every pitcher’s mission is to deceive the hitter,” adds Landrith.

Junior Alyssa Landrith, Howie Brey, Misty Jenkins and Casey Gaynor


Junior Alyssa Landrith, the star pitcher on the Scarlet Knights softball team, and sophomore Howie Brey, the top starter for the Scarlet Knights baseball team, point to their pitching coaches, Misty Jenkins and Casey Gaynor, for much of their success.

Nick Romanenko

Landrith and Brey, both lefties, began playing as children, aided by family, friends, and pitching coaches, who monitored their throwing motion, known as mechanics. The instruction continues at Rutgers, where each team has a pitching coach: Misty Beaver for softball and Casey Gaynor for baseball. Beaver starred at Seton Hall University, Gaynor at Rutgers. Gaynor SAS’10 pitched for the Toms River Little League team that won the Little League World Series in 1998. After graduating, he spent a year with the Cleveland Indians, then a summer with the Newark Bears. 

Although baseball and softball are similar, there are differences. Softball, whether the fast- or slow-pitch version, is played on a smaller field: the pitcher’s mound is 43 feet from the plate, compared to about 60 feet in baseball. The pitching mechanics are different, too. A fast-pitch softball pitcher throws underhanded in a windmill motion, making a full rotation with the arm before releasing the ball with a snap, the ball commonly traveling at 60 m.p.h. Baseball pitchers throw overhanded, with the velocity sometimes approaching 90 m.p.h.

“Thrown correctly, softball pitching puts less stress on the arm than baseball pitching,” says Beaver. “A softball pitcher with good technique can pitch every day.” Not so with baseball. Because of pitching’s demands on the elbow and shoulder, pitchers need four to five days to recover between starts; otherwise, they break down through overuse or incorrect mechanics. “We follow a strict routine during practice: throwing in the bullpen and from the mound and practicing the long toss,” says Gaynor. “You don’t want to overdo it. By building muscle strength, you avoid injury. We preach, ‘Prehab, not rehab.’”

Both teams work out hard—in the gym, the weight room, and on the stairs of the Louis Brown Athletic Center (the RAC). “You need strong legs and a strong snap to get good speed on the ball,” says Beaver. “And you need to work on strengthening your core, or torso. The whole body is important in pitching, not just the arm.”

Pitchers need to be strong in order to play their part during the demanding 56-game spring season. The softball team plays doubleheaders on Saturdays; the baseball team plays three games on weekends (one on Friday night and two on Saturday). During her first year, Landrith led her team with an 18-11 record, pitched two perfect games, and was named Big East Rookie of the Year. Brey earned the role of Friday-night starter—the go-to guy who throws the first game—after an outstanding rookie season when he excelled as a relief pitcher. “The Friday game is all-important,” says Gaynor. “We want to get the weekend off to a good start.”

When the game begins, Brey initially likes to pepper batters with fastballs to lull them into expecting them. “Once I’ve gone through the batting order,” he says, “I mix it up with curveballs and change-ups, my favorite pitch: it has the same spin as a fastball and requires the same arm speed, but it arrives much slower.”

On the mound, Landrith is poker-faced, hiding her grip from the opposing team’s base coaches, who could alert the batter to what’s coming: in either form of the game, pitchers position their fingers differently on the seams of the ball according to the requirements of the pitch. Watching the batters’ stance and body language is important. “Are they crowding the plate?” she asks. “That could mean they don’t like the inside pitch. So you throw inside. But you can’t always be sure. Sometimes they do like the inside pitch. There are a lot of mind games in pitching.”

Meanwhile, pitching coaches sit and watch. “I gauge a pitcher’s energy,” says Beaver. “If she needs to ramp it up, I’ll yell, ‘I need more cowbell!’” a reference to the Saturday Night Live parody of a Blue Oyster Cult song with Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell that’s become the team’s mantra. In contrast, Gaynor stays quiet when his pitcher is in a tight spot: “I give him the space to work it out on his own, but if I sense he needs help, I’ll go to the mound and tell him what I think he’s doing wrong.”

Before and after games, good coaching is always about communication, Beaver and Gaynor agree. “They know I’m here to help and support them,” says Gaynor. Beaver adds: “I’m honest with them, and I expect the same. Trust is important between players and coaches.”