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Softball Pitching - The Essentials

By Gary L. Gullekson

Pitching is the heart and soul of Fast Pitch Softball. I’ve heard various estimates, 80%, 90%, etc., but suffice to say that the game starts and stops with the pitcher. That’s the very reason that Slow Pitch Softball had such a popularity boom. The pitchers dominated Fast Pitch, and it was perceived that there wasn’t much “action” in the game. As players, we know this to be false.

Things happen so fast in Fast Pitch, that it takes a finely tuned team to make correct decisions and reactions instantly. It’s an exciting game to play and to watch, if you know what to look for. This booklet is prepared in an effort to help you, as a pitcher, fully develop your potential and help your team with games. This is not intended to be an “end all” answer to all of your questions but as a guide.

Softball Pitching - You need a lot of practice to be a successful pitcherHopefully, this information will give you some new things to work on and think about to improve your game. There are much higher levels of sophistication that can be reached, but if you understand and can master the theories and techniques described herein, I guarantee you that you will be a better pitcher.

1) There are three basic pitches, you as a young pitcher should be concerned with and try to perfect.

A) The Rise Ball: The Rise Ball is thrown in much the same way as an overhand curve ball. The ball is released with a sharp upward break of the wrist, and an elongated follow through where the pitching arm is extended up above the head, directly toward the plate. The stride is usually longer which has the effect of putting the body “under” the ball.

A tight rotation (much like a football spiral) is desired. It is important to concentrate on a straight and exaggerated follow through to give the pitch the effect of breaking straight up, as opposed to up and out. The bat is swung in a horizontal position, so it is obvious that anything as near vertical as possible will make the pitch harder to hit.  The Rise Ball is normally thrown high and if possible, in on the hitter. A low rise is a hard pitch to throw, but can be very effective if perfected.

The hitter will usually take it, thinking it is going stay low, out of the strike zone. The higher the pitch is thrown, the more it breaks. The truly effective Rise Ball just brushes the top of the strike zone and goes up from there. It is the hardest pitch to bunt, and should be thrown in bunt situations with the idea of getting the batter to pop up the bunt attempt. You should throw Rise Balls to small, fast hitters.

The natural trajectory of the ball off the bat will be up due to the angles involved and will usually result in the ball being hit in the air. The quick runners are usually trying to hit the ball on the ground where they have a good chance to beat it out. Rise Balls will reduce their chances of doing this. In fact, you can throw it right down the middle to these type of hitters, hoping they will hit it good. If they do, it will normally be a routine fly ball to the outfield. Pop-ups and fly balls are easier to handle than ground balls.

Regardless of the grip you use, the Rise Ball is released with the wrist in a “cocked” position, and off from the SIDE of the finger.


B) The Drop Ball: The Drop Ball is a natural Softball pitch thrown with little or no break of the wrist. Some people teach a drop with a rolling over action of the wrist. This tends to do just that to the ball - lazily roll it over, curving it slightly as it goes down slightly. Again, the law of verticality applies. We’re always looking for sharp breaking pitches. The stride is slightly shortened, giving the effect of keeping the body “on top” of the ball. The follow through brings the pitching arm down around the waist, directly toward the plate, with the shoulders forward, which “topples” the ball as it approaches the plate. There is a subtle wrist action involved that varies with individuals and can be refined with supervised practice.

This is not a breaking or turning of the wrist, but is involved with the release of the ball. The Drop Ball should be thrown low and preferably on the outside corner. It should hit the top of the hitters knees as it crosses the front part of the plate. A high drop is effective a few times a game, as the hitter will tend to take it, thinking it is going to rise out of the zone. A drop is a good pitch to get any lift on it, and will usually result in a ground ball. These hitters are not generally as fast as the smaller hitters, and you have placed the odds in your favor by getting them to hit it on the ground. It is a good pitch if you are looking for a double play ball, or trying to avoid a sacrifice fly.

Regardless of the grip you use, the ball is released from the top and end of the fingers, with the back of the wrist horizontal to the ground at the release point.

C) The Change of Pace: (change up) There are many acceptable types of pitches to use as a change-up. The important factor is the change of speed from the other two pitches. The idea is to throw the hitter off stride and equally importantly, to put it in their minds that you have this pitch available to you. If they walk to the plate afraid of looking bad on a change-up, they won’t be as ready to hit the other pitches. The motion should be as nearly the same as the other pitches as possible to avoid tipping the change in speed.

Some general rules to keep I mind regarding the change-up are: A) try to get it on the outside corner. The hitter is lunging out in front of the plate so it is obvious that if the pitch is inside he/she can still reach it, whereas if it’s outside they can’t. B) Don’t throw it  to a weak hitter. If they can’t hit your regular stuff, don’t give them a break by giving them something easy. C) Anytime a good hitter pulls your best stuff foul, the next pitch should automatically be a change-up. If they’re that eager and on top of your pitches, you have to give them another look. D) Don’t be afraid to throw two in a row. E) Try to show the change-up in the first inning to the first or second hitter to let them know you’ve got it. The change-up is a very difficult pitch to throw, but it will separate the throwers from the pitchers. As you gain confidence in this pitch, consider this: Many theorists believe that the change-up should be used when you’re ahead in the count or as a strikeout pitch. I don’t agree with this. I think it is an excellent pitch when you’re behind in the count 2 – 0 or 3 – 1.

Why? Because the hitter thinks he/she has you in a hole and is down on the end of the bat, looking to get a grooved pitch that they can really drive. Pop a change-up on them in this situation and watch their eyes. Obviously you have to be able to get the pitch in the strike zone in this situation. You can tell yourself that you’ve thrown a good change-up when the hitter drops his bat, goes down on one knee and yells out loud!. Then you know you have fooled them and they’ll never forget it even if they don’t face you again for five years.

2) General Rules on the Three Pitches

  1. Rise Balls to small hitters, Drop Balls to big hitters
  2. Rise Balls in bunt situations.
  3. Drop Balls in double play or sacrifice fly situations.
  4. Change-ups early in the game and behind in the count.
  5. Rise Balls thrown high, Drop Balls low, Change-ups away.
  6. Change-ups whenever they pull your good stuff.
  7. No change-ups to poor hitters.

As a young pitcher, it is not necessary to “play” on the mound. If you go out there and discover that on a given day you have a good Rise Ball, stay with it. Just because you have more than one pitch doesn’t mean you have to throw them. You may want to throw nothing but Rise Balls for an entire ball game! As long as they can’t hit it, why throw them anything else? It’s like a doctor prescribing two or three medicines to a patient, when only one is required. If you are facing a good hitting team, then use all of your pitches if necessary, in the general pattern described earlier. Or you may want to vary the pattern the second and third time through the line-up.

3) Grip

Understand that THERE IS NO ABSOLUTELY CORRECT WAY TO GRIP A SOFTBALL TO THROW ANY OF THE ABOVE DESCRIBED PITCHES, or any other pitch for that matter. The correct grip is whatever works for you. During practice, it is wise to experiment with different grips to find what works best for you. It is very important to have a knowledgeable catcher or coach to help you.

They can tell you which pitch has the better rotation, which is what you’re looking for. When you find out which grip is best, then work hard on it. You’ve already established rotation, now work on the release and increase the break of the pitch, and the speed with which it is delivered. It is a general rule that the more fingers you have on the ball, the slower it comes off the hand, thus reducing speed.

In fact, some change-ups are thrown with all four fingers. It is best to grip any pitch (other than change-ups) with two fingers, thus reducing friction and increasing speed. I recognize that some of the pitchers have very small hands, and may not be able to grip a softball with two fingers and still control it. If you can’t, use three.

4) Stance and Follow-Through

You must discover a comfortable position on the pitching rubber. You might want to move one way or another if you are slightly missing a corner. When you begin your delivery, you should be bending forward with your knees flexed. You don’t spring off from the mound as baseball pitchers do, but glide forward with the body increasing momentum directly toward the plate as you approach the release point.

The arm must be co-ordinated with the body, and “whip” through the release point, with the wrist in position depending on the type of pitch you are throwing. As your momentum carries you through the release, your body will naturally “follow”, putting you in position to field the ball. If you are throwing RISE BALLS, your body will end up in a more upright position. If you are throwing DROP BALLS, you will be bent forward. But with both pitches, you must start bent forward. Why would you want to stand straight up to throw a ball underhand? Your position and release is much like a bowler.

If you are straight up, you are in what we used to call, the “horseshoe pitching” position. Being straight up not only costs you velocity, but it is asking your arm to compensate for this poor pitching position by traveling further and “wrapping around” to reach the release point. Additionally, it is difficult if not impossible to throw a good RISE BALL from a straight up position. You are asking too much of your wrist to overcome the entire position of your body. Remember, with a RISE BALL, we want our body “under” the ball.

5) Control

I wish there were some way to stress how important this aspect of the game is. None of the early discussion has any validity if you can’t get the ball over the plate. Three walks a game is too many! Zero walks per game is your goal. We set goals for ourselves, to give us something to strive for. If we can’t reach them, they can’t say we didn’t try. Zero walks is a worthy goal. Consider the excitement you’ll feel if you reach it.

Think in terms of firsts. The first batter each inning is important to keep off the bases, and the first pitch to each batter is important to get ahead in the count. If you could ever pitch a game where the first batter popped up the first pitch you threw them, you’d have a perfect game. 3, 4, 5 pitch innings are what you want. You don’t have to worry about striking out the hitter.

Throw strikes and the game will take care of itself. It puts undue stress on your infield and outfield if they have to be on their toes for pitch after pitch that goes out of the strike zone. The entire game changes when there are baserunners. There is added pressure on the infield and they sometimes have to play out of position to guard against a bunt or a steal. Passed balls allow runners to take liberties on the bases. Bases on balls (walks) just generally tend to screw up the works!

Concentration and dedicated and continuing practice are the keys to building that confidence in your control. You will probably find that there is one pitch that you feel more confident in getting over the plate. By all means communicate this feeling to your catcher and throw it when you need strikes. It is better to have the batter hit the ball hard than to walk them.

At least if they hit the ball, someone has a chance to catch it. Always have a target in mind, even when warming up on the sidelines, throwing against the wall in the gym, pitching batting practice or just playing catch. Always have an idea or target, be it the knees, the belt buckle, the shoulders, inside or outside, somewhere. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hit it consistently at first.

Keep trying! That’s what life is all about. If you stay with it and remember to concentrate, your percentage of quality pitches will go up the longer you are involved with the game. As you become better and better, you will be aware of the difference between strikes and quality strikes. You will be shooting for the edge of the plate as opposed to just trying to get it over. A hard RISE BALL on the inside corner and a sharp breaking DROP on the outside corner will GUARANTEE that you will be a winner.

6) Practice
 
It has been said that the way to become a good softball pitcher is to throw 100 pitches a day for 100 days. In others words, you need to practice pitching very regularly. I basically agree with this although young arms can handle much more than 100 pitches a day. Softball pitching is a natural motion as opposed to baseball pitching which is an unnatural motion. When you throw a ball overhand, you are stretching the tendons in your arm in a direction they weren’t meant to go.

On the other hand, when you walk down the street, your arm swings freely much in the same manner and direction as it does when you throw a softball. For this reason, softball pitchers can pitch double-headers, throw every day and pitch to a much later age in life. If you EVER GET A SORE ARM PITCHING SOFTBALL, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH YOUR MOTION! Tired arm yes, but sore arm – NEVER!

7) Warm-Up

When you begin warming up, throw a few pitches overhand to loosen the arm. It is a good idea to learn to throw an overhand curve ball, as the wrist action is much the same as the RISE BALL, and loosens the wrist as well as the arm. Even here you can improve your overall game by keeping in mind that as soon as you release the ball, you become a fielder.

The majority of balls that you will have to handle will be to the right of you. In many cases, especially with bunts on the third base line, you will not have time to straighten up to make your throw to first base. You will have to throw with accuracy from three-quarters or sidearm position. A bunt that is thrown wildly down the right field foul line can quickly turn into a home run.

When you go into your windmill motion, throw approximately 25 DROP BALLS at medium speed, working on rotation and location. ALWAYS have a target in mind, then shift to about 25 RISE BALLS with the same objectives. By now you should be good and loose and maybe even a little tired, so work on your change-up. Experiment and find a pitch that is comfortable for you, as a change-up. Remember on the change-up that you don’t want to take too much speed off from the ball, as this will allow the batter to re-hitch and still hit the ball. You want the ball to cross the plate in the middle of their hitch.

Throwing against a wall is good providing you mark out the strike zone in chalk and concentrate on a target. It has an added advantage in that it allows you to practice fielding. Another advantage of this type of workout is that you can practice even when there is no one available to catch you. When working out in the gym, remember that there is no air flow. Concentrate on the rotation of the RISE BALL and DROP BALL, and don’t be discouraged if the ball doesn’t break sharply. A curve ball is resistance to air currents. When you get outside, you will see a marked difference. Ideal conditions for a pitcher who is throwing breaking balls is to have a stiff breeze right in their face.

Pitching batting practice is sure drudgery but is some of the best practice you can get. It’s called batting practice, but its pitching practice too. Always try to throw to a catcher and not against a screen. In fact your game catcher is most desirable. The more time you have throwing to your game catcher the better you will work together. Every pitch you throw in batting practice should be a STRIKE!

As each batter comes up, start out at medium speed and let them get their eye. It’s batting practice, you want them to hit every pitch. They’re your teammates and you need them to get some runs for you. As they get their eye, increase speed with them. This helps you both. It lets them hit the ball in game conditions, and it lets you work on your control and pitches. Remember to totally focus and concentrate on your catcher every time you throw the ball.

8) You and the Umpire

I suppose you can’t have a game without umpires, but many times I’ve wished it were possible. Since you have one, you should be aware of some ways to work with them. Umpires are individuals like the rest of us, believe it or not, and nobody’s perfect. Be careful to keep pained expressions, etc, off from your face as umpires are very sensitive to this sort of behavior.

If they miss a few (hopefully only a few), you have to pitch around it. Your coach might help you out between innings as he passes the umpire by saying something like, “some of those high rises were pretty close weren’t they?” Anyway, you can’t do much about it, and generally they will be equally bad (or good) for both teams. But there are things you can do to make the umpires job easier and get the benefit of the close ball and strike calls.

 Be very aware of your catcher’s position when he/she receives the ball, especially the high rise. If the catcher raises up in front of the umpire at the last moment, it will invariably be called a ball, because the umpire loses sight of it. If you see your catcher doing this, have a word with them between innings. If an umpire “sets up” over your catchers left shoulder, he will see that particular corner much better, or on a straight line, than he will the opposite corner which he must view from an angle. The same is true of the other corner. Many times when you feel that you’re not getting a corner call, it can be traced to this. Be aware also that you might be actually missing the corner by an inch or two.

One way to try and overcome this problem is to move your foot position by a few inches on the rubber, in the direction of the corner you are missing. It’s similar to a bowler moving a couple of boards. You must also observe how deep a crouch the umpire takes, and if he stays in it all the way through the pitch. The deeper the crouch, generally the better he will see the low pitch. If he tends to stand straight up, chances are he won’t give you the low strike consistently.

You need to watch this as the game progresses also. An umpire may start out by getting low on every pitch, but as the game goes on he gets tired and tends to stand up. Be prepared to adapt to the umpire all during the game. Some umpires are called “high ball” umpires, some are called “low ball” umpires. Usually they have a preference for calling certain pitches due to their stance, as discussed above. It is necessary for you and your catcher to be aware of these individual characteristics and pitch to them so as to take maximum advantage of his/her particular style.

At all costs, avoid making the umpire look bad by constantly questioning his ball and strike calls. I guarantee you that if you do this, you’re not going to get a break during the ball game. They have long memories too, and will carry their antagonism over to the next time they call one of your games. If you are around the plate all the time, assuring the umpire of a quick, clean game he will respect you and give you a good ball game. Don’t be afraid to tell the umpire that he/she called a good game, if you really believe it. If you don’t think he did, don’t say anything. You don’t have to restrict yourself to complimenting him only when you win, either. If you have the class to tell him he called a good game even when you lose, you will gain a great amount of respect and , as I said, umpires have good memories.

9) Fielding Your Position

This is a subject so involved that it warrants a completely separate booklet. For now, be aware that as soon as you release the ball, you become a fielder. If the ball goes to the outfield, GET OUT OF THE MIDDLE OF THE INFIELD! Know in advance what base you are to back up, and go there. It’s an ugly sight to see a pitcher in the middle of a run down. When backing up bases, know your angles. It doesn’t do any good to get right behind the third baseman for example, on a throw from center field. First, you can’t see the ball, and second, if the ball is straight at the third baseman, they’ll probably catch it.

There will always be an angle, however slight, and this is what you should base your position on. Also, on many of the fields you will play on, the out of bounds marker is not too far off from the playing field. When setting up, GO TO THE OUT OF BOUNDS MARKER, then come back in one step prior to the throw. If you catch the ball in a back-up situation and you’re out of bounds, it’s two bases to the runner.

You must practice fielding bunts and ground balls for hours! The bunt is the most dangerous play in softball, and you MUST be able to handle it. Practice with your third baseman. You must communicate with him/her. There’s a runner of first usually, that’s why they’re bunting, right? If you are going to field the bunt, the third baseman must immediately peel off and return to third to cover, or the runner will advance from first to third. If the third baseman fields the bunt, you must immediately go to third and get in a position to take a throw. You never want to present a “MOVING TARGET” to throw at, so you must get there early. The decision to cover has to be made instantly!

10) Recognizing and Developing New Pitcher

I’ve recently had people tell me that women college pitchers can’t be effective unless they started throwing the ball at a young age. This is ridiculous! Two of the greatest pitcher’s I’ve ever known never threw a ball until they were in their 20’s. You may have athletes on your teams right now that have the potential to become truly outstanding pitchers, if you have the ability to recognize who they are. You must look for “The Motion.” If an athlete can pick up a softball and make it look very easy to throw with a windmill motion, a completely natural move, with no hitch at all, you have a potential pitcher.

Conversely, I have been asked to try and develop pitchers from players who are very good athletes, but do not have “The Motion.” I have been told that it’s impossible for me to be able to determine whether or not a pitcher has pitching potential by merely watching them throw one or two pitches. Of course, the people telling me this had no pitching background. Some people have a talent for music. When I tried out for the school band at an early age, I was told to stick to sports. Some people learn to type easier than others. So it is with softball pitchers. True, a young pitcher in the elementary grades can be developed gradually, and be taught to throw loosely and naturally, but it still all starts with “The Motion.” In the Golden Years of softball, back in the 40’s and 50’s, you would see a team warming up on the sidelines before a game, and everyone was trying to throw underhanded.

But very few had the natural movement. Since Fast Pitch Softball has had such a resurgence in popularity, mainly among high school and college women, there hasn’t been enough time and availability of qualified pitching coaches to fully develop all of the athletes with pitching potential. There may be untapped gold in your programs. The speed with which these new pitchers can develop, if they already have “The Motion” is dependent largely upon their desire to be pitchers and willingness to put in the hours and hours of practice necessary. But don’t overlook them. You can never have too much pitching.

11) Selecting Clinics and Pitching Camps

I feel obligated to get into a sensitive area concerning Clinics and Pitching Camps. You and your coach are obviously going to make your own decision concerning this subject, and that’s as it should be. However, at least read and consider my feelings on the matter. It could make a major difference in your development as a pitcher.

As background, consider that Fast Pitch Softball was at it’s peak in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, then began to taper off with the enormous popularity of Slow Pitch Softball. I am very pleased to see Fast Pitch make such a resurgence, especially among high school and college women. But the hiatus left some problems. Most of the old-time pitchers are no longer associated with the game, and there is no substitute for experience.

I know of cases where there are people out there purporting to be pitching coaches who have never thrown a ball game in their life!. To me, this is patently ridiculous. Also, there seems to be a set of pitching instructions that came from somewhere that tries to stereotype and lump all pitchers in the same category, as if they were all cloned or ran off on the same Xerox machine.

You, as a softball pitcher, are an individual. You should seek out coaches who have the ability, based on experience, to recognize your individual strengths and weaknesses. They will be able to further enhance your strengths and help you overcome your weaknesses.

Where do you find such a coach? Look to experience. When you or your coach consider a Clinic or Camp, you should ask for the credentials of the instructor. How many games have the pitched, and at what level of competition? Theory only goes so far. The practical application, as it applies to YOUR unique needs, MUST be taught by someone that has hundreds of hours of game pitching experience. Philosophical approaches to the game, or “Mind Sets” are very important as well as the mechanical act of delivery.

Some of the pitching Clinics currently in operation could actually hurt you more than help you. You go to them with your nice, natural fluid motion, and they want to change you to fit some written guidelines they teach by, possibly written by someone who has never pitched. You leave the Camp confused, discouraged, and simply not liking the game as much as you did when you went there. You don’t have to take my word for this. Ask around. I’m sure you’ll be able to find many pitchers and coaches who have had this experience. Maybe you’ve suffered it yourself.

I’ve been told that “girls bodies are different from boys.” This was not a newsflash to me. I fully recognize that muscle development and physical size are different for boys and girls. But for that very reason, it’s all the more important that you girls develop correct techniques to (1) get the maximum potential from yourself, and (2) learn to throw with comfort and stamina without developing sore arms, etc.

The point I’m making here, is be very careful when selecting Clinics and Camps. If you have a leaky faucet, you wouldn’t call an electrician. If you want to improve your pitching game, don’t go to someone that’s never done it.

Drills and Practices Techniques:

1. Strength and Stamina

Legs: Your legs will betray you before your arm in a long hard game. It is necessary to stretch the legs completely before pitching practice and especially before a game. I have seen pitchers forget to do this and be fine until they hit, then pull a hamstring muscle running down the first base line. It will also pay dividends later in the game, when the legs begin to tire.

Some specific workout techniques.

Off-season and Non Game Day:

  1. Jumping rope
  2. Leg lifts with Nautilus or similar equipment
  3. Running, both distance and sprints
  4. Deep knee bends
  5. Duck walks

Before a Game:

a) Thorough Stretching:
1) grip the ankle behind the back with the opposite hand and pull leg upward.
2) lean forward against the dugout wall or the fence or backstop as far as you can, raising you up on your toes. Then stretch your foot and ankle, trying to get your heel flat on the ground.
3) short series of sprints.

2. Arm Strength and Speed.

Be aware that speed is developed from the ELBOW TO THE WRIST area, assuming you already have the MOTION. This area acts as a fulcrum and “whips” through the release point. So, obviously any strength exercise to develop this area of your arm is desirable.

  • arm circle.

  • Squeezing a rubber ball.

  • Throwing a weighted ball AFTER THOROUGHLY WARMING UP. A good technique is to throw 25 pitches with a normal ball, then 10 with weighted ball and continue this rotation. DO NOT TRY TO THROW RISE BALLS OR OTHER BREAKING BALLS WITH A WEIGHTED BALL!

  • Throw 10 pitches at game speed, then completely extend yourself, throwing 5 pitches as hard as you possibly can, not concentrating on location, but merely speed, and continue this rotation. Be sure to thoroughly warm-up first.

  • Play catch from 90 feet, in a flat footed position. Take your stance with the left foot forward (if you are a right handed Pitcher) which eliminates your ability to stride. At first, you may have trouble throwing the ball 90 feet in this way, but as your arm strength increases, you will do it with ease. This also “smoothes up” your motion, as any hitch, pause, etc. will prevent you from reaching your goal.

  • Play catch from greater distances, using normal motion and stride. Go out beyond second base and throw to home plate. Increase your distance each day, if you can, until you reach your maximum. This is an excellent drill to ensure the rotation on your Rise Ball is correct, also. You will discover very quickly that a Drop Ball will “topple” toward the ground, as it is intended to do, and you will not be able to get any distance on it. A Rise Ball will “ride the wind” like a flat stone skipping on water. You will also easily see if your Rise Ball is going straight, which would go up and out. Remember, we want as nearly straight and vertical as possible.

3. Control

Again, the most important aspect of your game is control. Any time you throw the ball, have a target. Set up games in your mind to simulate game situations.

  • Throwing to a catcher. Have your catcher move the glove around in series of pitches, ie, 10 Drop Balls on either corner at the knees, 10 Rise Balls at the letters on either corner. When you are able to the target 50% of the time, have the catcher move the glove randomly, even with each pitch. (don’t forget to include the change-up)

  • Throwing against a wall. Mark off the strike zone with chalk and follow the above pattern. Always be aware of the “premium” strikes, those right on the extreme edges of the plate, at one of the four corners.

  • Batting practice. Excellent means to perfect control with a batter present. Follow the patterns described earlier in this booklet.

  • Dimensional strike zone. Construct a strike zone out of Kite string or some other lightweight cord by stringing two horizontal strings from poles, buildings, or whatever is available. Volleyball poles would work well. Then “tie-off” two vertical pieces to make the strike zone. You can use this device with or without a catcher. It creates s dimensional target and should be placed at the FRONT of the plate. Again, shoot for the four intersections at the corners.

  • Practice. As much as you can do, but a minimum of 100 pitches a day. Stay after it. Some days will be better than others but don’t be discouraged. Practice breeds control. Control breeds confidence. Some magical day you will KNOW that you can throw a quality strike with any pitch you have, any time you want to.

4. Fielding Your Position

You can help yourself win many ball games by becoming a excellent fielder. Like all other position players, you must be aware of the game situations, and know what you are going to do with the ball if it is hit back to you, in advance. Bear in mind that Major League Baseball pitchers, no matter how long they have been professionals, practice for hours each spring co-ordinating with their first baseman on covering first base. This is a “bang-bang” play with the runner bearing down on them. Fast Pitch Softball, with the bases so close together, is FULL of these types of plays at every base. Many, many ball games are lost due to mishandled bunt plays. You, as a pitcher, are involved in nearly all bunt plays by virtue of your position right in the middle of the infield. You must be able to handle them effectively.

  • Pepper Games: Excellent drill to improve your reaction time and improve your ability to field ground balls and short hops. If you are not included in regular pepper games, organize your own.

  • Fielding Bunts: Field as many as possible, until your throw to ANY base is automatic. Take this opportunity to coordinate communications with your catcher, third baseman and other infielders, so that you all are thinking together.

  • Backing Up Bases: When your coach hits to the outfield during practice, take your position on the mound, and practice backing up the various bases as the outfielders throw to them. Be aware of angles and spacing as described earlier.

  • Practice Covering: Practice covering home plate on wild pitches and passed balls, assuming a runner on third. This can become a pivotal play in a ball game, and it is almost never practiced. Practice breeds confidence. If your catcher knows that you are going to be there, he/she can go get the ball and get if to you in a position to make the play. Many backstops are fairly close to home plate, and there is no reason to concede a run in these cases. Be aware of trying to keep your bare hand away from spikes, cleats, etc., when making the tag. Also be aware of other runners on the bases. Once the play is made at the plate, whether Safe or Out, the play is over and there may be an opportunity to throw out another runner who is advancing or who has rounded a base too far.

  • Coordinating the Bunt Play with Your Third Baseman: Practice this throughout the season! There is usually a runner on first base when they bunt. If you field the bunt, the third baseman must immediately peel off and return to third, to prevent the runner from going from first to third. If the third baseman fields the bunt, you must instantly and without hesitation go to third. Your job is to arrive there as early as you can to present a stationary target, in case of a throw. We never want to throw at a moving target if we don’t have to. You must get the catcher involved in this drill also. In some cases, there may be a play at second base, which the catcher will inform you of. So, you have to coordinate with the third baseman and listen to the catcher at the same time. It takes practice.

  • Throwing to First. Practice throwing to first base until it becomes automatic. Practice on bunts, balls hit directly back to you, slightly to your right, slightly to your left. Your “base point” is the mound. They never move the mound or first base. They’re always in the same position, so key off your base point. Know where you are. You must be able to throw to first instantly and accurately. In some cases, especially with bunts, you don’t have time to straighten up and find the bag before you start your throwing motion. Practice on bunts and topped balls down the first base line. You must throw to the infield side to give your first or second baseman an unrestricted view of the ball, and also to keep them out of the path of the base runner.

  • Pitchouts and Intentional Walks: I have included these items in the fielding section as they are defensive plays. If you are asked to pitchout or issue an intentional walk, it will probably be in a key game situation, And yet, it’s almost never practiced! I’ve seen cases where an intentional walk was called for, and the catcher didn’t know what to do. Practice this. Have the catcher stand up and give the bare hand target out of the strike zone. Practice it until it becomes comfortable for both of you. The same with pitchouts. Understand the reason for pitchouts – usually a bunt or steal situation. The things you must keep in mind when delivering a pitchout are (1) Prevent the batter from hitting or bunting the ball. Chances are that your infielders are out of position, setting up the particular play that the coach has in mind. You definitely don’t want the batter making contact in this case. (2) Giving your catcher an easy ball to handle. Practice this with your catcher. Have a pitch in mind. A “flat” RISE BALL, that is a pitch with Rise Ball rotation, but little or no wrist snap is good. It is thrown high and outside the strike zone. The rotation prevents the ball from dropping, and being high, it automatically straightens the catcher up and puts them in throwing position. But again, you should practice this with your catcher until you have the confidence to do it right in a game situation.

Summary

Fastpitch Softball is a great game and to truly enjoy it, you should play the game right. During the ball game, especially in the case of a pitcher, you should be totally focused on the game. Your job is to prevent the other team from scoring runs so as to give your team a chance to win. But you’re not out there alone. You have fielders behind you who want to win as badly as you do. You have been coached and given the tools to do the job with. You have spent long hours practicing to get you ready for the game. You can be shown how to do it, but the rest is really up to you. How much dedication are you willing to give? Are you willing to throw every day, working on the things discussed herein? Even where there is no one available to give you those pats on the back and encouragement? Keep in mind that you can’t practice too much. You must be confident ALMOST to the point of arrogance. Confidence breeds control. If you dedicate yourselfs, I know you will be winners. Good Luck!


 
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