Pitching Sequence (Ancaster Baseball)

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Written by Huston McKinney  

The Change Up

The development of pitchers and the change-up takes time, and lots of young pitchers won't stay with a grip long enough for it to feel good. A pitcher should play catch using the change-up grip almost daily, and a coach (or parent) should insist that his young pitchers throw 20-30 percent change-ups in games until they see the results (pop-ups, weak ground outs, and strikeouts) and start to believe in the pitch.

The toughest job for a pitching coach (or parent) is to sell the change-up to his pitchers. At first, they hate the concept of throwing their third or fourth-best pitch to the hitter. In pro ball, a 2-0 or 3-1 fastball is your third or fourth best pitch. It becomes sort of a catch-22: "I can't throw my change for a strike so I don't use it" and "I don't use it because I can't throw it for a strike." You hear things like "I'll throw it in the next game." Before long, the season is over and it's "We'll have to work on it next year." Young pitchers must throw it. Coaches should call the pitches from the bench and make them throw it, even on the first pitch. Eventually, they will thank you when the pitch is helping them win games at the higher levels. 

Tips on the Change Up

Here are a few reminders for young pitchers trying to develop a change-up: Find a grip that is comfortable (like the circle change grip) and stick with it, the grip does all the work. Hand speed - should be the same as for the fast ball- is what fools the hitter. Movement is desirable, but not at the expense of hand speed. Don't pick corners, throw your change-up down the middle (But, not on 0-2 or 1-2 counts!). Stay with it and it will help you win at the higher levels. (You didn't stop throwing your fastball just because it got hit once or twice). 

Setting Up Hitters: The Game With in the Game 

Coaches should never take for granted that a pitcher recognizes the game situation and will have a sound plan of attack. Pitchers get "lost" during games. Even major leaguers lose emotional control at times and have to be reminded to slow down (count to five), regain good mechanics, and stop overthrowing. Pitchers at all levels should be reminded of game situations during the heat of battle. Sometimes I will go to the mound to remind veteran-young pitchers that first base is open and to pitch around a tough hitter. It might seem silly, but you never want to lose a game because you assumed something. Never! On a rare occasion, I will go will go to the mound to discuss mechanics. Sometimes I might mention balance or direction but I offer no new information during the game. Most of the time it is just a confidence builder or a break so the pitcher can think about the situation he is facing (or catch his breath). I try to break the tension when things are not going well or distract the pitcher from feeling sorry for himself. In one game the pitcher was tired and I went to tell him a joke, he laughed and proceeded to strike out the next two and we won the game. Sometimes you have to dig deep for something to tell a pitcher to get him through the tough times. 

Typical Game Situations-Late Innings of a Close Game 

A leadoff hitter with very little power 

It should be obvious that this hitter will take some pitches and work the count. A leadoff walk would put the offense in a strong position, so this hitter is unlikely to swing at many bad pitches. Start with a fastball on the outside half of the plate for a strike. Staying ahead in the count is essential, so come back with another fastball on the inside or the outside half for strike two. You can take a shot at a bad breaking ball for strike three, but by all means come back with a strike on the fourth pitch. This kind of hitter must be made to swing the bat. The possibility of a bunt for a hit exists, so make sure the first and third basemen are in a few steps.

Leadoff hitter with good power

With this guy you may start with a fastball either in a few inches or on the outside third of the plate. The other option for the first pitch is a breaking pitch just over the plate. Trust me here-he won't swing at a breaking ball on the first pitch. Keep mixing them up but don't give him too much credit and fall behind in the count. The pitcher is in big trouble if he falls behind in the count to a power hitter, who is almost always a great fastball hitter. A change-up will always be a great pitch to power hitters, and if the pitcher shows him hand speed he will rarely hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat. If the pitcher has a two-run lead, the situation is completely different: pitch the power guy like the leadoff man in the first situation challenge him! 

Man on first, offense needs to get a runner to scoring position.

If you don't think the hitter is bunting (you never know for sure), then a fastball down by the knees is always a good pitch in this situation. Anytime you need a double play-and this situation certainly meets the criteria-a good fastball down in the zone is a great idea. The coach of the offense has many options for moving the runner into scoring position: he can sacrifice bunt, steal, hit-and run, or hit away. When the bunt is in order, which would be only in one-run games, the pitcher must know who is covering second (almost always the shortstop) if the ball is bunted hard back to him. 

Most teams will bunt the ball toward the first-base line because the third baseman is charging hard; the second baseman then covers first. It is very important to get an out on this play. Lots of teams use the fake bunt and swing, or what is called the "slash." With a good runner on first, a steal is always a possibility, and a pitcher should be aware of the runner's lead. Every pitcher should have a quick pitch with an unloading time (the elapsed time from first movement to when the ball hits the catcher's glove) of 1.3 seconds or less. The pitcher really can't do anything about the hit-and-run except keep the runner close with pick off moves to first, throw strikes, get ahead in the count, and stay there. If the pitcher gets two quick strikes, he limits the flexibility of the opposing manager. So throw strikes. 

Runner on second base, no outs

With a runner on second and nobody out, the hitter should be trying to get the runner over to third. He may either bunt the man over to third or try to hit the ball to the right side. For some right-handed hitters, the pitcher can try to keep the first two pitches in with something on them. For a pull-type hitter, these are difficult pitches to hit to right. Many other right-handed hitters who handle the bat well are fair at hitting that pitch to the right side, and the best pitch to them would be an off-speed breaking pitch or change-up. If a left-handed hitter is at the plate, it is wise to stay outside with fastballs and not throw too many off-speed pitches in this situation. One of the easiest things for a left-handed hitter to do is pull a ball to the right side and get a man over to third. Don't make it easy for the hitter and throw a lot of off-speed pitches. A team that gets an important potential run to third with one out will score most of the time.

Man on third and less than two outs

When a runner reaches third with less than two outs, the defense is very vulnerable. If the runner represents the tying or winning run, the infield will probably play in and almost any hard-hit grounder will get through. Since a sacrifice fly will beat you, the pitcher must keep the ball down. The squeeze is something that a pitcher must always be aware of whenever a runner is on third with one out. In my opinion, a pitcher should always pitch from the stretch with a man on third and one out or any time that the infield is playing in. Pitching from the windup here is asking for trouble, regardless of the pitch thrown or the hitter at the plate.

Pitching with a big lead

I disagree with managers who say, "We're leading by 6 runs-if you give up 3 or 4, we still win. Throw the ball down the middle." Hey-if I'm pitching, I don't want to give up any runs. Sure I'm a "team guy," but I have pride, and I care about my E.R.A. Any pitcher who says he doesn't is not being honest.

First-pitch strikes, from Little League to the majors!

When baseball managers, coaches, or pitching instructors get together and talk about pitching in general and what they expect from their pitchers, the subject of first-pitch strikes always comes up. It is a fact that hitters hit for a much lower average after a first-pitch strike than after a first-pitch ball. Winning pitchers at all levels pitch ahead in the count, and they avoid the counts of 2-0, 3-1, and 3-2. A big step in that direction is a first-pitch strike. Generally speaking, a .300 hitter hits a hundred points higher when ahead in the count and a hundred points lower when behind in the count. If a pitcher is concerned that so many hitters are first-pitch fastball hitters, he shouldn't worry. The major league average on first pitches is under .200. If you are a pitcher or a pitching coach looking for an edge, consider that hitters at all levels must average near .100 against first-pitch breaking balls. The downside to this is that most hitters absolutely hammer the pitcher who misses with a breaking-ball first pitch and as a habit comes back with a fastball down the middle on the second pitch. At the higher levels, pitchers must stay away from fastballs down the middle on obvious fastball counts. If the pitcher says, "I don't want to get beat on my third-best pitch," remember that on these counts the fastball is your third best pitch. A pitcher who doesn't learn to throw something other than a fastball when he's behind in the count will never become a good pitcher. It is also very important to get the leadoff hitter out. In the major leagues, when the leadoff hitter gets on base he scores 44 percent of the time. 

Calling your own Game: When and How to Use Your Pitches

Every successful pitcher develops a variety of sequences to get hitters out. In high school, most pitchers throw fastballs until two strikes, curve balls (for young players, change-ups) until 3-2, and then another fastball. Not very scientific, but it works pretty well, especially if you have a good fastball. When pitchers move into college or minor league baseball they suddenly need a change-up, and they begin the long process of developing this key pitch. This development may take some time but is a necessary ingredient, for most pitchers can't pitch in college or beyond with just two pitches. Once a pitcher has command of at least three pitches, he can use some of the following pitch sequences. Obviously, the pitcher must adjust this information to (1) the game situation, (2) whether the hitter has power and (3) whether the previous pitch was a strike or a ball. Every successful pitcher pays attention to hitters' tendencies and habits. Most batters have definite hitting patterns on specific pitches and specific counts. Pitchers should also pay special attention to where their defense is playing. Communication between pitchers and catchers and other defensive players is very important to the overall success of a team. At times you even see major league pitchers pitch hitters one way when the defense is set up the other way. In my opinion, if the pitcher doesn't like the way his defense is positioned, he should move them. 

Pitch Sequences

The following examples of pitch sequences are for right-handed pitchers-for left-handers, simply switch the side of the plate that the hitter is swinging from. 

First pitch-fastball in (right-handed hitter) 

Suggested pitch to follow: Breaking pitch away. This is the oldest and most popular sequence of all. Why? Because it still works. Another fastball in. He may think that you are going away; when you back up (repeat) a pitch it usually works well. Change-up. The hitter's bat has been speeded up looking for a ball to pull, and he should be out in front of the change-up. Cutter or slider in to the inside corner (throw at the hitter's hip). The hitter will give ground and take the pitch. Even if he gets good wood (aluminum) on it, it will usually go foul. 

First pitch-fastball for a strike at the knees (right-handed or left-handed hitter)

Suggested pitch to follow: Another fastball letter high. Many hitters, especially upper-cutters, will chase the ball up out of the strike zone time after time. This is called "going up the ladder." Change-up. A change-up is always a good pitch following a fastball. Hitters will swing at a change-up anytime the pitcher shows the hand speed-that all-important ingredient-to fool the hitter. 

First pitch-fastball on the outside third of the plate (right-handed hitter)

Suggested pitch to follow: Fastball in. Once the hitter sees a pitch away, he could be diving into the pitch and the fastball in will jam him. Using the fastball in and out is one of the basic sequences for pitchers at all levels. Fastball away again. Remember-backing up a pitch is always a good idea, especially if you reversed the sequence (see first example) during the last at-bat. Change-up. Anytime you get the hitter thinking fastball; the change-up is a great pitch. Slider or cutter away. Hitter will chase this pitch or take it for a strike if you can get it to the outside corner. 

First pitch-breaking ball on the off the plate (right-handed hitter) 

Suggested pitch to follow: Fastball in. The hitter is looking away and "diving" to cover the outside half of the plate. Pitchers at all levels use this pitch sequence. Another breaking ball farther away. You have the hitter diving; he may chase anything outside, even out of the strike zone. Fastball letter high over the plate. After a breaking-ball strike, the hitter is anxious to swing at any fastball and is likely to chase a fastball out of the strike zone. 

First pitch-change-up down the middle (right-handed or left-handed hitter)

Suggested pitch to follow: Another change if the first is a strike. Hitters usually look fastball most of the time, and backing up a change-up really works. High fastball. Hitters become frustrated after seeing a change for a strike and get very aggressive. High fastballs are pitches that aggressive hitters love to chase. Fastball in exact location of change-up (previous pitch). The closer the fastball is to the previous change-up the more effective it is. (A straight change with the same spin as your fastball is the most effective.) Keep in mind that the changeup must show the necessary hand speed to fool the hitter. Fastball in. You have the hitter thinking "stay back and wait"; now you bust him in with a good fastball. It sounds very basic, and it is. It also works. 

First pitch-four-seam fastball in (left-handed hitter)

Suggested pitch to follow: Two-seam fastball in. The fastball looks in and comes back to hit the inside corner. Change-up. The hitter thinks, "be quick" and speeds up his bat, which makes him easy prey for the change in speeds. Another fastball in. The hitter might be diving in thinking you may go away after the fastball in. Slow curveball (changeup for young players). The vast change in speeds from fastball to slow curveball will almost always fool the hitter and at least make him hit the ball poorly. 

First pitch-four-seam fastball on the outside third of the plate (left-handed hitter)

Suggested pitch to follow: Another four-seamer away if the first one was a strike. Every hitter you face must show you that he can hit the fastball away (many hitters can't). Until the hitter shows you the ability to adjust, keep pumping him fastballs away with an occasional one in. Fastball in. The hitter might be diving out for the next one and this pitch should jam him. Always remember that in, and out sequences are almost always effective. Change-up away. It looks like the same pitch, and the outside change-up is by far the toughest to wait on for the hitter. Two-seam fastball (tailing away). The hitter may chase this one out of the strike zone if the first fastball was a four seamer that was fairly true in flight. Taking something off this pitch (maybe four or five miles per hour) is also very effective. Professional baseball people call this practice (taking something off) a batting practice (B.P.) fastball or a "dead fish." 

First pitch, breaking pitch (changeup for young players) away ("back-door") on the corner (left-handed hitter)

Suggested pitch to follow: Another back-door breaking pitch a bit slower or farther out if the first one is a strike. You never know-he may chase it. Remember the golden rule: "Don't throw a hitter strikes if he will swing at balls." Fastball in. The hitter might be diving in, and the fastball in is always a good pitch here. Watch the hitter's reaction to the first pitch: did he dive in to get it or was he opening up looking for the ball inside? Fastball away. He probably told himself, "wait on the ball and hit it the other way." He probably won't get to the fastball and hit it on the head of the bat. Slider or cutter inside. If the hitter is diving, this pitch should tie him up and the result is usually a pop-up or a weak ground ball. 

First pitch-slider or cutter in on the belt (left-handed hitter) 

Suggested pitch to follow: Same pitch but farther in. If he chased the first one, he may do it again. Remember to keep this pitch at least up by the belt or higher. Most left-handed hitters are dangerous when the ball is low and in. Two-seam fastball away. The hitter has opened up some after being crowded by the slider or cutter. Often he will "roll over" this sinker and hit a weak ground ball. Change-up. The change is always a good pitch after coming in on the hitter. These are just a few examples of sequences that successful major league pitchers use. Study big-league pitchers on television or at the ballpark and try some of their sequences. 

Remember: think when you pitch - don't just throw!
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Printed from ancasterbaseball.ca on Sunday, July 22, 2018 at 6:07 PM