Ah Ha! Got your attention with that statement. That’s the goal of every coach, every player, every team from Little League® to the Pros. Three up and three down. An easy 1-2-3 inning. Get back to hitting and scoring runs. For a Little League® pitcher, there is no greater satisfaction on the mound then three easy outs. So, how can a youth baseball pitcher achieve this three up, three down system on a regular basis. Let’s highlight a few good practices that help get your defense off the field and into the batter’s box.
- Throw Strikes, especially Strike One – Finding the strike zone on a consistent basis is priority number one for a youth pitcher. Throwing strikes gives you and your defensive team the best chance at making an out. Walks put the defense on standby, can cause fielders to lose focus, adds runners to the bases which can cause confusion with defensive assignments. Throwing strikes and allowing the ball to be hit in play is a positive thing for youth baseball players, not a negative. If a youth pitcher is struggling to find the strike zone in a game, you can try:
- Visiting the mound to calm him/her’s nerves
- Moving him/her to a different side of the pitching rubber
- Moving the catcher from the middle of the plate to the corners (inside, outside)
- Making sure the pitcher doesn’t rush; have them take a relaxing deep breath between pitches
- Re-enforcing good mechanics – Leg drive, proper arm angles, focusing on catcher’s mitt
- Be a pitcher, not just a thrower – Hitting a baseball requires hand eye coordination and timing, among other things. If a hitter sees the same pitch 5 times in a row, the same speed, the same location, that hitter has an advantage over a pitcher. Even if the hitter has swung and missed a few times, then fouled pitches off, eventually an average hitter will develop the timing needed to hit the ball fair. So, it is a pitcher’s job to throw off that timing. Here are some ways to throw off a batter’s timing:
- Changing speeds. Even if you do not possess the arm strength to throw a high spin rated curveball or slashing slider or devastating sinker, you can still change the speed of the baseball enough to throw off even the best hitters. There are a number of easy grips for a change-up to fit any youth baseball players hands.
- Changing location. Move the baseball inside, outside, up and down in the strike zone. Good command of the strike zone allows you to throw to the hitter’s weakness as opposed to their strengths.
- Change your starting position on the mound. Move from the center of the pitcher’s rubber to the left and right to change the eye angle of the batter. If the batter has had success against you in the past, change the angle of your pitches to him/her to make them adjust.
- Be the 9th Fielder and help out your own cause – The best fielding pitchers get easy outs and help their teams tremendously. In youth baseball, there are a ton of “swinging bunts” and balls hit back to the pitcher. Field them cleanly, take a second to collect yourself and then make an accurate throw to home, first, etc. Be in a good fielding position after you pitch so you can hustle off the mound for bunts, cover home plate on passed balls, back up throws to third. Be an active fielder to help your defense get easy outs and make good, smart defensive plays.
These are just some of the ways a youth pitcher can help get outs. Of course, there are a ton of other circumstances that can occur even if the pitcher throws strikes, changes speeds, is in a good fielding position. Ultimately, good defensive practices win out and help get the pitcher those three easy outs. But, if the pitcher does his/her part, throws strikes consistently and keeps his/her team in the game mentally and physically, they are at the least, laying the foundation for an easy 1-2-3 inning.
Stay tuned to the RIBBE for more advice on coaching from local experts – High School, AAU, NECBL, Little League® coaches – on hitting, pitching, defense, sportsmanship, and more. And send me your thoughts on this and any article on The RIBBE.