Today’s Softball Pitching Pointers focuses on the Change-up. Arguably the most important second pitch in a pitcher’s arsenal and the one that is overlooked and neglected the most. When pitchers begin pitching, 99.9% of the time they will learn a Fastball and once that is mastered they will learn a change-up. For those not familiar, a change-up is a pitch that is eight to twelve miles per hour slower than the fastball. The purpose of the change up is to throw off the hitter’s timing as well as to show them something different. Why on earth would you ever want to slow it down for a batter? Well since it’s almost impossible to speed up the Fastball on command, slowing it down seemed like the next best option.
There are hundreds of different change up grips to choose from. Think of finding a change-up grip similar to shopping for a new pair of shoes. It’s highly recommended to experiment and tryout multiple grips because one might feel more comfortable than the others. Once you’ve tried out several, narrow it down to a few.
It’s extremely important to break down the change up, especially for the younger pitchers. We understand that it’s exciting to add new pitches and the last thing pitchers want is to do boring drills. Drills are important. Think about how many fastballs pitchers throw in their lifetime. You probably can’t put a number on it or get even close. With that being said, pitcher’s bodies and mechanics are accustomed to throwing fastballs. If the change-up isn’t broken down into steps and learned properly, there is a greater chance it will begin to blend with the fastball over time. Ever seen a change-up that is way too fast to be considered a change up? Spend some time doing wrist flick drills, T’s, K’s, and even some arm circles with the change up grip before throwing it fully.
When first learning and practicing the change up, there are a few things to make note of. First, the change up does not need to be thrown as a strike. The key to throwing an effective change up starts with the motion. Pitchers who throw devastating change-ups focus on the body motion and selling the pitch. This means when the pitcher goes through her motion, the batter won’t know what’s coming. The change-up motion and the fastball motion should be identical. A common mistake the younger pitchers make is slowing their arm down to try to control where the change up goes. Don’t worry about that. Work on selling the pitch and dedicate your time and energy to making both pitches look the same until it comes out of your hand.
Second, slow change ups aren’t as effective. It’s recommended that the change up remains in the window of eight to twelve miles per hour slower than a pitcher’s fastball. Some pitching coaches will even accept a fifteen mile per hour difference. Anything slower than fifteen miles per hour gives the hitter a chance to track the pitch and re-load their swing. If the “too slow” change up ends up over the plate and high in the zone, goodbye ball. If you find yourself throwing a change-up that constantly gets hit because it’s too slow, experiment with another grip. The same thing can be said with a change-up that is too fast.
A constant question asked by pitcher parents and coaches is “when is the right time to throw a change up in a game?” Throwing a change up in a 0-2 count is becoming way too predictable in softball. A piece of advice, avoid throwing 0-2 change-ups altogether unless the batter fouls off more than three pitches, but at that point, you shouldn’t be throwing 0-2 pitches as hit-able strikes anyways. The best time to introduce a change-up is when the batters come through the order a second time. Try making it through the order one time with only showing your hard and movement pitches and save the change-up for round two. Another great time to throw a change-up is early in the count when an aggressive hitter is in the box. This is something you should notice during the first time through the order. If a hitter gets in there and takes their hacks right away, start off their second at bat with a change-up. 0-0, 0-1, 1-1, and 2-2 counts are ideal to show off a change-up in because they are less predictable than 0-2.
The purpose of a change-up is to give the hitter a different view by slowing the ball down and keeping the same motion as the Fastball so they don’t know it’s coming. Think about some of the best pitchers who have come through the game of softball. All have effective and devastating change-ups or off-speed pitches. Even if you are just starting to work on a change-up, don’t be afraid to broadcast it during a game. It’s good practice and it gives the hitters something else to think about. It only takes throwing one effective change-up in a game to rattle a batting order and get the fans involved and yelling “watch for the change.” Once a pitcher hears those magic words, they have already won.
Feature Image by: Michael Kyllo-Kittleson, Minnesota Softball