Softball Pitching Pointers: Learn to spot your fastball first, it’s the foundation for all other pitches.
The fastball is the most important pitch in the game of softball, with the change up coming in a close second. Fastballs are the first pitch pitchers learn and the one that shapes and sets the foundation for additional pitches in the future. Would you believe me if I told you that a pitcher can be successful at any level with just a fastball and a change-up? Many pitchers below the college level are eager to learn movement pitches, but alas, most are just throwing a fastball with a different spin to an intended location. It’s a real heartbreaker when that kid gets to college and they have to start back at square one with basic fastball mechanics.
Back to my first question. There have been many successful college and Professional pitchers who dominated the game with just having a fastball, a change-up, and maybe one other vertical movement pitch. Having only three pitches at the college level is common. Why? Because you don’t need an entire toolbox to be successful. If pitchers can master a fastball with pinpoint accuracy, a good off-speed, and maybe one other pitch that goes up or down, that’s all they really need.
There are many ways pitchers can throw to spots and be successful. But let’s make it simple for everyone. We can all agree that there are three zones on the plate. Straight down the middle should be avoided at all times after the 12U level, then there is an inside corner and an outside corner. When a pitcher takes the mound and looks towards the plate, let’s designate the right side as the ‘all of the time’ inside corner and the left side as the outside corner.
Throwing to spots can be done in a three and four step process, depending which corner of the plate the pitcher is intending to throw towards.
Step 1: Find a Focal Point – This is the where the pitcher’s eyes are going to lock in on. The most common focal point will be the catcher’s glove if the catcher moves early enough to set up. If you are pitching to a catcher who moves late, your focal point will need to be something different. Maybe the right sliver of the plate, the catcher’s knee, or the batter’s box line. Pick something and take a mental snapshot of it because this is where we want the ball to go.
Step 2: Step Towards the Focal Point – This is where the powerline comes in handy. There are essentially three different power lines when it comes to pitching. One that runs from the center of the pitcher’s mound all the way to the middle of home plate. One that runs from the center of the pitcher’s mound to the inside corner and same goes for the outside corner, giving us a total of three lines to work with. After a pitcher is locked in on their focal point, the next step is to step towards it, trying to get the toes lined up on the new line. If a pitcher is throwing on a mat with a powerline down the center, their step should cross over the line for an inside pitch and be a bit outside of the line for an outside pitch.
Step 3: Keep Everything Tight on the Line: – This step is crucial to delivering a hard pitch to a spot. If anything comes off the new powerline, the pitcher will lose the power and velocity behind their pitch and probably the spot as well. The most common error pitchers experience when throwing to an inside spot is the hip closing early, pushing the arm off the line and the pitch traveling too far inside to a right-handed batter. A helpful tip: try to stay open longer on the inside corner, that way the closing hip shouldn’t be an issue.
Step 4: Maintain Arm Speed – This step applies more so to delivering a pitch to the outside corner. When a pitcher steps towards the outside corner, their back hip won’t fully open. This is totally normal. Since it’s sometimes harder to control the lower half, let’s think about the body part we can control, the arm. Speed that arm up so that the release point is inserted just before the closing hip. If you aren’t sure if your hip gets in the way or not, you can always watch the outcome of the pitch. If you are throwing to the outside corner and your pitch travels back towards the middle or the inside, your back hip is more than likely in the way.
Throwing to spots takes time and lots of practice. It could take months of repetition but it is crucial that pitcher’s take the time to do so. Once you master the fastball and can hit spots 10/10 times, that’s when the next pitch should be added. We always recommend the change up as the number two pitch. It’s also important to keep the concept of hitting spots simple. Our brain can only hold one thought at a time so making more than one adjustment at once just won’t work. If you find yourself continuing to struggle with spots, seek some help and have an instructor or a pitching coach take a look at your mechanics. If a pitcher’s mechanics are at all flawed, it will be challenging to hit spots. If we can’t hit spots, we will never truly master any other pitch.
Feature Image by: Dina Kwit (Chicago Bandits)