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Change Up – The Forgotten Softball Pitch

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

softballchangeupToday’s topic was actually suggested by member Rex Wooten. He was looking for somebody — anybody — to address this topic.

I’m guess like many of us he sees a lack of changeups being used at the high school and below level. That doesn’t seem right to him, as his email suggests:

“Watched Jenna Caira and Sarah Hamilton pitch winning games this weekend.
Guess what pitch they threw the majority of the time (probably 60-80 %)?
YES – CHANGE-UP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The changeup as the forgotten pitch is particularly interesting because it’s almost always the second pitch a pitcher learns, after the basic fastball. And it can be devastating. After all, hitting is about timing, and pitching is about upsetting timing. What better way to do that than throw a pitch that looks like it will be fast but comes in slow?

Yet it seems as youngsters either develop more speed or gain other pitches, they no longer have interest in the change. I’ve seen it a lot with “power pitchers” at the high school level.

They fall in love with their speed, and the fact that they can use it to make opposing hitters sweat. What they forget is as the game goes on those pitches look less and less fast (and maybe become less and less fast if the pitcher tires), at which point they become a lot more hittable.

Mixing in a steady supply of changeups, though, solves that issue. You can’t zone in on one speed when there’s another one lurking around the corner. And no hitter wants to be made to look bad by swinging early through a changeup, so it has to be on her mind. Right there the pitcher gains a huge advantage in that one-on-one confrontation.

There’s also the perception factor. A well-thrown changeup, even if it’s not thrown for a strike, makes the fastball (or other fast pitch) look even faster by comparison.

Sometimes hitters see the changeup as it comes in and have time to reset. But that rarely yields a great hit. It tends to yield more of an arm swing, which results in ground balls and pop-ups — both acceptable outcomes for the pitcher.

These reasons and more are why the change is such a powerful pitch at the collegiate level. Entire championships have been won with them — think Taryne Mowatt and Arizona a few years ago. Her go-to pitch against Tennessee was the change, and she went to it a lot.

The only caveat is to be careful about going to the well too often, or in a pattern. If you’re throwing at least one change to every hitter, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out a strategy. A smart hitter will say “Throw your power stuff all you want; I’ll just sit on the change and drive it into tomorrow.”

The funny thing is most pitchers work on the change all the time. I had a student once who threw a real good one, but she’d never throw it in a game. I think she was afraid of throwing it for a ball, which was interesting because she didn’t stop throwing her fastball when she threw it for a ball.

I went out to watch her pitch and didn’t see a one in a seven-inning game. So I told her that I would PAY her $10 if she’d throw one in her next game. She did, it worked, and it became her favorite pitch. And yes, I paid that debt. Funny how sometimes you have to bribe people to do what’s good for them.

It’s great to have a nice array of pitches at your disposal. But don’t forget about the change. The curve may not break, the rise may not get called (umpires seem to be going to the MLB strike zone these days), the drop may start too low and the screw may not screw. But a good change will always do you good. Just ask Sheryl Crow.

Anyway, that’s the way I see it.

photo credit: batter

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