“Speed Kills – slow speed that is” – The Most Under Used Pitch in Softball is the Change-up!

The Change-up is the most under used pitch in softball.  I am not disagreeing that speed is important. The focus at USA Elite Training LLC is getting our young pitchers (13 and under) to throw 50 mph with command as soon as possible.  As much as speed is used as a benchmark for developing our pitchers so is the development of an effective change-up.  Before our pitchers learn any movement pitches we require that they have an effective change-up, which they can throw in pressure situations.   Based on my experience, it is more difficult for an older pitcher (high school age) to develop the change-up later in their pitching career.

 

Unfortunately, many of our younger pitcher lack experience in throwing change-ups, as the pitch is not called frequently enough for them to develop consistency or confidence in the change-up.  Too often, the coaches will not call the change-up after it gets hit once.  My question to them is, “Does the fastball ever get hit?”  When the only pitch the young pitcher has is the fastball coaches are forced to throw it. Coaches love speed at the youth level as it does dominate.   But in order for the pitcher to develop confidence the change-up must be used.  My focus on the change-up is toward the future development of the pitchers.

 

With the use of pitching machines, batters are able to practice hitting speed and become less intimidated by speed.   Ask the great hitters, at any level, even the professionals, what pitch they fear most, it’s the change-up!  The change –up throws the batters timing off.  In addition, speed differential, the appearance that speed is extremely different, occurs once the pitcher throws the change-up.  On the next explosion pitch following the change-up, it appears to be 3-4 mph faster than it normally would be to the batters eyes.  My favorite saying during the game is when the coaches on the opposing team start telling their players, “watch out for the change-up.” This is music to my ears, as the pitcher has now mentally placed a question in every batter’s plan.  For the hitter, their focus has shifted from concentrating on the positives of hitting the ball to the negatives of don’t get suckered into swinging at the change-up, or not to be paralyzed by the pitch and let if float over the plate for a strike. The batter is now becoming a defensive hitter verses an offensive hitter.

 

I encourage coaches to utilize the change-up more in their pitch calling.  The change-up should not be called only when the pitcher is a head. Call the change-up when it is least expected.  On a full count, as a first pitch, or when the pitcher is behind in the count in my opinion are great times to throw the change-up. Too often, the calling of the change-up is very predictable, used only when a pitcher is a head of the count and then it gets hit.  A pitcher also gains confidence in the pitch when it is called earlier in the count, or when least expected, because they know they can throw it for a strike.  If your pitchers can develop the confidence in an effective, deceptive change-up at an early age you have developed a lethal weapon for years to come.

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Bring The Heat First

By: Jennifer Hapanowicz – Founder USA Elite Training LLC & Virtual Softball Academy

 

The fastball is the foundation of the pitcher’s arsenal.  Too often pitchers and their parents overlook the importance of a fastball.  The fastball mechanics must be developed correctly into proper muscle memory.   And that means a lot of work, maybe 8000-10,000 proper repetitions to create.  Over the past 18 years of coaching softball pitchers, my favorite comment from a parent during an evaluation of a new pitching student, who I must add was only 11, “my daughter throws a curve, drop curve, curve rise, screwball, drop, rise in, and three change-ups.”  In my experience, no advanced level pitcher would have enough time to properly command this many pitches.   Also, there is no way any pitcher under the age of 13 could have enough physical strength to use the proper mechanics of these pitches.

 

Pitching is a skill, which requires time to develop.  The learning process and development of correct muscle memory for the fastball and change-up could take two to three years depending on the age of the athlete.  Based on my coaching experience, the pitcher who has focused on the mechanics and developing the speed of their fastball, change-up, and hitting their locations at the start of the their career has experienced more success.  In addition, a player who has learned and developed the proper fastball mechanics has experienced less injury and can sustain a longer pitching career.

 

Players all want to learn the movement pitches.  Players and parents need to understand that the fastball mechanics are the foundation that all of your movement pitches will be built off of.   It is not uncommon to see a pitcher loose their fastball mechanics as they learn movement pitches, especially if they don’t’ continue to spend time working on their fastball.   At USA Elite Training, a pitcher’s first goal is to command their fastball and change-up.

 

The first benchmark that we use to ensure that a pitcher is commanding the fastball is we test their speed.  The pitcher needs to be consistently throwing the fastball at 50mph to the four quadrants (inside low, inside high, outside low , outside high) 8 out of 10 times.  In addition, they need to have a change-up that can be thrown to low locations at a speed 10- 12mph slower, but not lower than 15mph, than their fastball speed.  Once these goals have been achieved the pitcher has developed a solid foundation and are now prepared to learn a movement pitch.  Notice I said, “a movement pitch”.   Just like fastballs and change-ups, learning the movement pitches will also take time to throw it properly and build the muscle memory necessary to throw it consistently and with command.  Because of that we focus on learning and commanding one new movement pitch per year.

 

The fastball can be used very successful at all levels to set up pitches.  In addition, after throwing a change-up, the speed differential will make the fastball inside look 3-4 mph faster.   For those players who think they will never throw a fastball at the collegiate level, you are incorrect.  Our college pitchers, including pitchers playing for top 25-college programs in the country still work their fastball in the bullpen everyday.  At the college level, many coaches do use the fastball, especially if their pitcher is throwing above 60mph.  So for those players who think the fastball will not be used at the higher levels they are mistaken.

 

The fastball is the foundation of your pitching house.  If your mechanics are off in one of your movement pitches, then there is often a mechanical issue in your fastball.  Therefore, no matter what your pitching level is, part of your daily-pitching- routine should include drills that will reinforce and maintain proper fastball mechanics.  If you would like to see our top foundation drill taught at USA Elite Training LLC down load our Virtual Softball Academy Silver iPhone app which contains our foundation pitching series.  If you don’t have an iPhone you can down load a copy to your computer from our web site www.virutalsoftballacdemy.com

If you have any questions, I can be reached via email at jen@usaelitetraining.com

 

 

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