Chapter 9: How to be safe when pitching
The most dangerous part of pitching is a come backer. This is a line drive hit directly at the pitcher, waist high to head high. This is a very dangerous situation and can cause injury.
There are three ways to protect the pitcher from this:
1) ball placement within the strike zone
2) fielding drills for the pitcher
3) safety equipment
Ball placement: A ball hit up the middle without touching the ground until it has left the infield is the result of a perfect contract by the batter. They have hit the ball directly “ON THE NOSE”. To do this the ball had to be in a hitting zone perfect for the hitter’s location. If the batter was crowding the plate, that area may have been an outside corner. Batters find it easier to hit the ball on the nose if the ball’s path is straight. Fast balls with no movement, are what they want to see. If the pitcher throws more breaking stuff some batters, early in a count, may try to predict a pitch adjusting their stance and position accordingly. So the best defense against a come backer is the correct pitch selection and location. In youth sports I feel that pitch selection is the responsibility of the coach, pitcher and catcher in that order. A good youth coach, who has been around for a while, should have a “book” on the batters from the other team. As a teenager’s career unfolds it is possible to see the same batter over 100 times before college. If a record has been kept of the results of past meetings that include the pitch, if hit, and where it went, you can often duplicate good results by doing the same thing again. You can even warn the fielders in the area you may expect the ball to go just prior to the pitch. No catcher in youth sports can carry this info over the seasons in their head. For safety sake, if no other reason, pitch selection should be made by the coach. The pitcher should have the right to shake off any pitch almost all the time. Pitchouts and intentional walks are selections that should not be shaken. There will be times when a pitcher can’t get something to work correctly, or may have picked up an offensive signal or just doesn’t feel right about the selection. The coach should respect the pitcher’s shake off and discuss it later in the dug out. The catcher may have heard something also, perhaps a bunt sign has been picked up with a runner on. This is not the time to throw anything way off speed. If so, they should meet with the pitcher to exchange info. Selection is one thing but execution is the other. The pitcher must make the pitch work and place it where it is best. Practice makes this possible, lots of practice.
Fielding drills: Once in a while have someone stand directly behind the catcher with a ball. At the exact instant the catcher receives the ball the person behind the catcher should fake throwing their ball at the pitcher. This is done with every pitch. Sometimes the throw is made, fast and hard (for the pitchers level of development) and at the pitcher’s head. Do this about 10 times per practice, 2 or 3 practices a week. This builds an understanding for the pitcher that they can protect themselves and shows them the limits to the area they can effectively field. We have always said that unless a ball comes directly at the pitcher they should not attempt to field it. I also feel someone else should take high pop ups. If you can’t get someone to stand behind the catcher than try this; have the catcher put another ball in the back of their knee. Once in a while, the catcher should underhand toss it at the pitcher while their pitch is in flight to the catcher. Not as good a drill but much better than nothing
SAFETY EQUIPMENT: Pitchers helmets with clear face masks are sometimes used and are required by a fewl organizations. Be sure the helmet fits correctly, is well ventilated and completely dried between games. This visor MUST BE CLEAN and not scratched. If the visor does get scratched polish it out with toothpaste. In hot climates you might consider alternating helmets every other inning. You could poly bag one helmet and put it in ice, while the pitcher uses the other. Make a helmet change in between innings and repeat the process every inning. If the pitcher is tall, a stride leg pad could be a nice piece of armor If all of these recommendations are followed a quality pitcher getting a lot of mound time will have less that a dozen dangerous come backers in their career and will have the confidence to handle all of them.
RADAR GUNS Don’t use them. In youth sports they give you very little advantage. A good pitcher will cancel the advantage with their first pitch. There is still the cancer link to worry about and they cost money. Keep real good notes instead and you’ll get a much better result for the cash.
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