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Softball Hitting Fundamentals - Making Adjustments

By Ken Krause

During the last weekend of August, our Mundelein Thunder organization held tryouts for the 2005 season. As you might expect, I spent two days hanging around the hitting section of the tryouts.

Rather than doing the evaluations, though, this year I volunteered to feed balls into the pitching machine. It gives you the appearance of participating without actually having to do a whole lot, at least as far as thinking goes.

Softball hitting - a good hitter learn how to make adjustments at the plate.While I was there, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. We had the Jugs machine set around 48 mph from 35 feet, figuring it would give everyone a chance to look their best. Yet some of the prospects had some trouble hitting the balls. Several complained that it was “too slow” and asked me to crank it up. A couple also asked me to move the pitches higher or lower, or further inside or outside.

I finally started asking some of them, “Do you ask the pitcher to throw pitches in locations you like them, or at certain speeds?” Of course you don’t. Last time I was at a softball game, which was today as a matter of fact, no one asked the pitchers for jack squat. Because the minute you let one of those crafty pitchers know you can’t handle a low, outside off-speed pitch, you can bet you’ll see a steady diet of them.

The fact of the matter is that good hitters can hit fast pitching, but great hitters will hit anything that’s thrown their way. Rather than getting all caught up in factors they can’t control, such as pitch speed, pitch location, or how ugly the other team’s uniforms are, they simply make an adjustment and crush the ball.

I certainly experienced this when I played men’s slow pitch. To play a weak or average team, you needed great control, because they’d look over every pitch closely, trying to draw a walk. It could be quite a challenge, especially the first couple of times I was tapped to pitch because I wasn’t paying attention when everyone else stepped back.

But when we would play really good teams, especially A teams that were slumming in the B division, my job was easy. I’d just loft the pitch in the general direction of home plate, and watch as they ran all over the batter’s box in order to crush it toward South America. (A reference from the movie Major League by the way, for those who miss my movie quotes!) My outfielders got a lot of exercise, but I had it easy, I loved playing those A teams!

Great hitters don’t whine about the strike zone. They simply watch what the umpire is calling and then adjust accordingly. Having trouble with rise balls around your eyes? You can try moving up in the box to catch it before it gets to your eyes, or moving back so it passes you so high even the worst umpire will give you the call.

Is the strike zone a little wide on the outside? A lot of times pitchers who throw a lot of outside pitches are worried about hitting the batter. So crowd the plate, turning a pitch that’s one ball off the black (edge of plate) into a middle pitch, and probably forcing the outside pitches so wide the catcher can barely pull them down.

Complaining that a pitcher is “too slow” is a sure sign that the hitter isn’t very mature, regardless of age. They’ve turned their swings to a particular rhythm, probably driven by a pitching machine, and when the pitcher doesn’t match their machine, they continue to swing the same way anyway. When they strike out, they blame the pitcher for being too slow – as if it’s the pitcher’s job to give them pitches to hit! Last time I looked – and again that was today – the pitcher’s job is to get hitters out. The hitter’s job is to prevent that from happening.

The key to making adjustments is to give up and preconceived notions you have of what the pitch should look like, and hit what’s being thrown. Don’t change your swing – change the timing of your swing. If the pitch is slower than you’re used to, start later, even if that means starting when the ball is almost on top of you. If the pitch is outside and you’re a right handed hitter, go with it and hit it to right instead of trying to pull it to the left.

If pitches off the outside part of the plate are being called strikes consistently by the umpire, you can bet he or she isn’t going to change that for you. Instead, reach out and tap that ball foul. If you foul off enough of those pitches, the pitcher will eventually get tired of looking at you and bring something else that might be more hittable. Then crush the thing! Some of the best at bats I’ve ever seen started 0 – 2 and wound up with a hit or walk after another 12 or so pitches.

If low pitches are being called strikes, again it’s up to you to make an adjustment. First of all, don’t lay off them with two strikes on you. Get that bat head down low and give it the ol’ Tiger Woods chip shot. Also keep in mind that in general, umpires who call low strikes don’t call high ones, and vice versa. Know where the umpire’s strike zone is, and make sure you’re going for those pitches. You don’t have to do it until you have one strike on you, but you’d better darned well be doing it with two!

All great hitting mechanics in the world won’t help you if you can’t make adjustments to the pitchers. They’re just the starting point. Instead of stubbornly sticking to a strategy that isn’t working, make an effort to really, truly see what’s being thrown and adjust accordingly. That’s what separates the great hitters from the merely good ones.

As for what happened at tryouts, some of the players just came up and hit the ball. They didn’t ask to see one first, they didn’t make a fuss over whether it was exactly what they wanted. They just stood in the batter’s box and started driving the ball.

I did go ahead and “crank it up” after the official tryouts were completed. Those who had trouble at the slower speed didn’t hit any better at the faster speed. They simply had a better excuse for not making contact.

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