A relief pitcher replaces the starting pitcher in baseball, often due to fatigue, poor performance, or strategy. They have a fresh arm and help preserve the previous pitcher’s arm to prevent injury. There are two types of relief pitchers: intermediate relief and closers. Strategy can also play a role in determining when a relief pitcher enters the game.
A relief pitcher in baseball is a player who enters a game as a replacement for another pitcher. A team’s first pitcher in a game is known as the starting pitcher. When that player is replaced as pitcher for any reason, such as fatigue, poor performance, or strategy, the player to pitch next is a relief pitcher. A team may have multiple relief pitchers in a game if needed. Relief pitchers could also be called relievers. A relief pitcher whose primary role is to pitch at the end of games—usually just the last inning—is often called a closer.
Save the throwers arms
As contracts for professional athletes began to ramp up and players became a commodity in the sports business, baseball managers looked for ways to preserve their pitchers’ arms and prevent injuries. Decades ago, a starting pitcher in the major leagues typically pitched until the end of the game, or nearly so. In modern times, however, starting pitchers rarely pitch complete games and are instead replaced by relief pitchers. A pitching change could be made after a predetermined number of innings, a predetermined number of pitches, when the pitcher’s performance level drops, or at any other time the manager feels a relief pitcher might be more effective.
A relief pitcher comes into the game with a fresh arm, often replacing a fatigued pitcher. This can help preserve the previous pitcher’s arm to prevent injury or reduce the recovery time the pitcher needs before he can pitch again. Most starting pitchers, for example, need about four days of rest between starts. Some starting pitchers occasionally pitch three days off, but this has become increasingly rare. Relief pitchers typically pitch fewer innings each time they appear in games, so they often need less rest than rookies, but they also need the occasional rest day.
The role of strategy
Strategy can also play a role in determining when a relief pitcher enters the game. Some managers will know that a particular hitter struggles against a certain pitcher or type of pitcher and may use a reliever to get a better matchup. Many times, a right or left handed relief pitcher will be used against a certain hitter who may hit poorly against one or the other.
Types of mitigators
There are generally two types of relief pitchers: intermediate relief and closers. A middle reliever comes into the game to replace the starting pitcher or another relief pitcher, usually at some point in the second half of the game. Some medium relieves might be referred to as long relieves because they are asked to throw as long as possible after starting games. Long relief may be needed as early as the first inning to replace a starting pitcher who has performed poorly or is injured.
Some relievers specialize in late game situations. The closer is typically the best relief pitcher on the team and usually only pitches the last inning or two when the team has a narrow lead and wants to finish off a win. A middle reliever whose specialty is to precede the closer by pitching the penultimate inning is often referred to as a setup man.