Monday, December 19, 2005

Team Offense and Defense

Handling Off-Speed Pitches

In a game –like environment pitchers will practice throwing their best breaking balls for strikes, while hitters will practice hitting the pitcher’s off speed pitches in a straight line.

The coach will select 2-4 pitchers to participate in this team offensive and defensive drill. A regular infield will take the field and the coach should pre-select the order in which each position player bats. The drill should be split up into three different phases. The first phase of the drill is the “Change Up” phase. During this phase, the pitcher will throw a maximum of four pitches to the hitter. Only one of those four pitches can be a fastball. The rest of the pitches must be change ups. The catcher will be in charge of calling each at-bat and keeping the hitter honest with the fastball. The second phase of the drill is called the “Curveball” phase. Again, the hitter will receive four pitches during the at-bat. The pitcher is only granted one fastball to keep the hitter honest. The catcher will call the pitch sequence. The last phase of the drill is called “Third Pitch”. During this phase, the pitcher will throw a four-pitch at-bat to the hitter, while practicing their third off-speed pitch. The pitcher will again be granted one fastball per at-bat to keep the batter guessing when the breaking ball will be thrown. The catcher will continue to call the pitch sequence. The pitcher should be working on throwing their off-speed pitches for strikes. On the other hand, hitter should be focused on their balance and hand placement. Hitters should concentrate on keeping their hands back and not letting them drift forward even though their weight has shifted to the front half.

This drill really helps pitchers throw their off-speed pitches in the game. Many times, a young pitcher who lacks confidence in his off-speed stuff will throw their breaking balls at a slower arm speed. When speed is taken off the pitcher’s arm, their ball does not get a lot of action. Furthermore, pitchers often have a hard time even getting the pitch over the plate. This drill allows the pitcher to let loose and practice throwing their breaking ball without worrying about making a mistake. After pitchers develop a rhythm of getting their breaking ball over the plate, they can advance to locating the breaking ball in different spots trying to get hitters out. Hitters also benefit from this drill. Usually in batting practice the off-speed pitches do not have a hard bite to their break, while this drill forces pitchers to apply a lot of force to their breaking balls giving hitters a game-like look at off-speed pitches. Hitters will not only increase their exposure to breaking balls, but work on maintaining proper balance throughout the swing. Also, the hitter should concentrate on keeping their hands back after loading and striding toward the pitcher. By practicing both of these skills, hitters should gain confidence toward hitting a change up, curveball, and any other off-speed pitch a pitcher can throw.

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