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The game plan for pitchers.

Once the pitchers have mastered the mechanics, they must be equipped with a pitching plan - a specific pattern of pitching that is adjusted to the skill of the pitcher, the strengths and weaknesses of the hitter, and the specific situation.

Much of the accompanying plan has been developed with the help of Don Rowe, the pitching coach of the Milwaukee Brewers.

FIRST ON SECOND PITCH STRIKES:

The No. 1 objective is to throw the first or second pitch for a strike. Why not always start with a first-pitch strike? Because it would put excessive pressure on that first pitch and lead to low-quality strikes and a high percentage of balls.

By giving the pitcher an option (first or second pitch), the coach will keep him in a comfort zone. Point to remember: MaJor-league hitters average close to .300 against the first pitch.

The pitcher who has two pitches is in an advantageous position. He can throw his highest-percentage strike pitch or to his highest-percentage location on the first or second pitch.

The situation will dictate any deviation from this plan. Obviously, with an RHP on the mound, runners on second and third, and a good left-handed hitter at bat but a weaker right-handed hitter on deck, the situation will dictate a change in the plan.

Coaching point: There are no "always" and "nevers." The general pitching plan is always open to adjustment.

ONE-ONE PITCH STRATEGY:

The second part of this plan deals with the 1-1 pitch. This is the most important pitch in baseball because of the huge difference in the batting average between the 2-1 hitter (.290) and the 1-2 hitter (.180) over the course of a major-league season.

The pitcher has to throw the 1-1 pitch for a strike. He has to pay attention to the location and the type of pitch to give himself the best possible chance of throwing that pitch for a strike.

Every pitch is important because the game is played one pitch at a time, but the difference in offensive productivity between 2-1 and 1-2 is so large, it is imperative to throw two of the first three pitches for strikes.

TECHNIQUE FOR UNEVEN COUNTS:

The third part of the plan deals with the 0-2 and 2-0 counts. When the pitcher falls behind in the count (1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-0), he has to box the next pitch - throw his highest-percentage strike pitch (hopefully, he has more than one), on a downward plane over the middle of the plate above the knees to the waist.

The more advanced pitcher can half-box in these situations - throw the ball knees to waist or mid-thigh, in or out, not just over the middle. This kind of "boxing" or "half-boxing" can be enhanced by throwing the pitch with movement.

The boxing technique can be used on any count, based on the ability of the pitcher, his command, stuff, and the situation. Some pitchers find the 0-1 count a prime time to half-box.

When the count is 0-2 or 0-1, some pitchers will "tilt" - go up and in and then down and away. The up-and-in pitch should be a fastball thrown at the hitter's hands or just below his front elbow.

As a rule, this should be a four-seam pitch, but it also can be a two-seam pitch held along the narrow seams so that it will run into the hitter on the side of the pitching arm (R.H. pitcher vs R.H. hitter) or back upon the inside corner away from the pitching side (R.H. pitcher vs L.H. hitter).

The slider could also be used away from the arm side to get the ball in on the hitter's hands (R.H. pitcher vs L.H. hitter). This will be flatter than the slider that is thrown down at the hitter's back foot.

The up-and-in pitch can be thrown off the plate to move the hitter's feet - taking him out of his comfort zone. It can also be thrown on the inside corner for a strike. The hitter, pitcher, and situation will determine whether or not to throw the up-and-in pitch for a strike.

The second part of the "tilt" technique is to throw the ball down and away for a strike. When thrown to the hitter on the pitching arm side (r.h. pitcher vs r.h. hitter), this can be a four-seam fastball on the corner or a two-seam fastball that tails back on the corner (or a breaking ball).

The two-seam tailing fastball is difficult to throw because it is hard to get tailing action away from the pitching-arm side. When thrown to the hitter away from the pitching-arm side (r.h. pitcher vs 1.h. hitter), this pitch can be a two-seam or four-seam fastball, a change-up that tails, or occasionally a back-door breaking ball - a breaking ball that starts off the plate and breaks on the corner.

Hitters tend to give up on this pitch, but care must be taken not to break this pitch over the middle of the plate.

Tilting, especially when the pitcher can establish hand-high inside-corner strikes, will make the hitter more inside-comer conscious and give the pitcher the entire 17 inches of the plate to work with.

Actually, any time the pitcher can command the inside and outside corners of the plate, he will have 22 inches of the plate to work with because the ball is 2 1/2 inches in diameter - which adds 2 1/2 inches to each side of the plate.

The umpire will also add width to the plate for pitchers who work fast and throw lots of strikes.

The pitcher can also reverse his "tilt" by starting low and away and then going up and in for strikes. This will keep the hitters from gearing up to one pattern.

Another possibility in the 0-1 or 0-2 situation is to double up on the pitch throw two in a row to the same spot to keep the hitter from adjusting to the "tilt" pattern. The doubling-up technique will keep the hitter from anticipating a "tilt" pattern.

Many experienced hitters will dive into the plate after the pitcher goes in on them. The pitcher can combat this by throwing the first pitch in off the plate and then throwing the same pitch over the plate for a strike.

The first pitch (in off the plate) should move the hitter's feet - taking him out of his comfort zone. The idea is to gave him an "uncomfortable at bat."

For hitters away from the pitching-arm side [r.h. pitcher vs 1.h. hitter), the pitcher can double up by going in off the plate and then wrapping a breaking ball around the hitter's back foot.

Another variation of this two-pitch putaway is working up and down to cause an eye switch that will keep the hitter from gearing in to the ball going down.

Hitters today are incredibly low-ball conscious. They really zero in on the ball down. By throwing a high fastball, the pitcher can get the hitter to move his eyes off the low zone. When the hitter resets on the low zone for the next pitch, he isn't as likely to be as precise as before.

This is especially advantageous for pitchers who throw a down-breaking curveball or a split that goes down. Hitters are likely to swing at fastballs up, thinking that they are downer curveballs or splits because the rotation is on the same axis.

The curve rotation is 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock and the fastball rotation is 6 o'clock to 12 o'clock. The downer curveball starts high and ends up down in the strike zone.

ONE-PITCH PUTAWAY

The final technique in the pitching plan is the one-pitch putaway - the two-strike pitch with which the pitcher is going to finish off the hitter. The putaway pitch will be a fine strike or a high or low pitch in the hitter's chase zone.

The fine fastball strike can be a four-seam fastball right at the hitter's hands, a two-seam fastball that runs on into the hitter's hands, or a knee-high pitch on the black, away.

The chase-zone fastball is a four-seam fastball up and out over the plate or up and away from the hitter. It's an up-the-ladder pitch especially good against hitters who are trying to lift the ball but will chase balls up in the zone.

The putaway breaking ball is thrown low and away for a strike and the chase-zone breaking ball is thrown into the dirt. The one-pitch putaway can be thrown just out of the hitter's effective hitting zone, generally on a 0-2 or 1-2 count.

The 2-2 pitch should be treated like a 3-2 pitch. The pitcher should be able to throw it the same way on either count. Generally speaking, young pitchers try to trick 2-2 hitters by throwing too fine or throwing breaking balls. They wind up struggling to throw strikes on 3-2 and they rarely throw the breaking ball.

CONSERVING PITCHES

The overall objective of the pitching plan is to get the hitter out in as few pitches as possible. The more pitches the hitter sees, the more information he stows away in his mental computer and the fewer innings the pitcher will be able to pitch.

Control and stuff really drop off after 16 pitches in an inning. We want to average less than four pitches per hitter. A notable goal would be "on or out in three pitches."

Young pitchers with suspect command should not waste pitches. As it is, they tend to over-rate the hitters. These pitchers may have to box all their pitches.

As the pitchers progressively work through their bullpens, they will begin to work finer and finer until they master control, which will usually happen after the coach has forced them to hit smaller, more specific targets.

Since the best hitters fail seven out of 10 at bats, it is obvious that strikes, even low-quality strikes, can get the hitters out. In critical situations, the pitchers should pitch strength against strength.

Let us say the pitcher likes to keep the fastball low and the batter likes the low fastball. If the pitcher can throw his fastball a little lower than the hitter's effective hitting zone, chances are he'll get the hitter out.

If he cannot do this, chances are he'll tend to get behind the hitter on his second and third pitches, giving the hitter count leverage until he gets his pitch and smacks it.

If the hitter doesn't have count leverage, chances are that when the pitcher puts the ball into his location, the batter isn't going to do anything with it, especially if the pitcher has a good downhill plane to the plate.

Sixty-three percent of all fairly hit balls in the big leagues are outs. The score, inning, outs, hitter, base-runners, and on-deck hitter will dictate the way to approach each hitter. In general, the more the pitcher works around people, the more runs he will give up and the more big innings he will create.

The practice regimen is a critical part of the pitching plan. The pitchers must get in their practice on boxing, tilting, and putaways in the bullpen.

Since young pitchers are distracted by the hitters standing up at the plate, it's a good idea to use stand-in hitters whenever pitchers are throwing to the catchers. It's also a must to have the catcher wear all his equipment in this kind of practice.
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Title Annotation:baseball
Author:Weinstein, Jerry
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Feb 1, 1998
Words:1917
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