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We all know the #1 priority for a pitcher is to get the batter out.
But with the aggressive running style of today's game, a pitcher must also be adept at holding runners by developing quick, compact mechanics pitching from the stretch or set position.
Did you know that the most important pitches thrown in any game will happen while a pitcher is pitching from the stretch?
Think about it for a sec: Almost every crucial pitch, in any game, almost always happens when a pitcher is throwing with runners on base and in scoring position.
In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know about pitching from the stretch, holding runners and getting out of tough situations to help your team win.
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But before we get into some of my favorite tips for pitching out of the stretch, check out this pitch from David Price. Price is a perfect example of a big league pitcher who has great mechanics out of the stretch:
Pitching with runners on base
Of course with a runner at first base, a left-hand pitcher like David Price has a major advantage when pitching from the set position. Not only is the left hander facing the runner at first base, but he also does not have to change or adjust his leg lift, hand break, or arm action.
For a righty, it's different. With a runner at first base, the right-hand pitcher needs to lower and quicken the leg lift, quicken the arm action, vary his motion, and unload the pitch as quickly as possible.
With a runner at second base, both righties and lefties should quicken up and adjust their delivery.
The point I want to emphasize is that it is extremely important to develop and use a consistently quick delivery from the set position to discourage teams from running on you.
You can do this three ways:
- Deliver the ball to the catcher under 1.3 seconds.
A quick runner takes about 4 seconds to get from first base to second. A good throwing catcher takes about 2.0 seconds to receive the ball and get it to second base for the tag. Let's add them up: Pitcher 1.3 seconds + Catcher 2.0 seconds = 3.3 seconds. This gives you a much needed 0.7 seconds margin of error.
- Throw quality pitches while remaining under the 1.3 sec limit.
Use an abbreviated leg lift (such as the modified slide step) and a quicker hand-break in order to maintain your ability to get into proper position maximizing your velocity and command.
- Develop a quick pick-off move with an accurate throw.
The most important concept to understand when pitching from the stretch is how to control the base runners. I said "control base runners ... not "pick off base runners." Believe it or not, there is a huge difference in the strategic approach of the two. Instead, keep runners close to the bag by having quick feet and a short arm swing so you can deliver the ball quickly and accurately to the first baseman.
Basic pitching mechanics from the set position
The following breakdown of the pitching motion is meant to be a guide for a coach who is instructing a young pitcher, or is attempting to make adjustments for a pitcher who is experiencing specific problems within his motion.
As a coach, the key element is to be able to identify the specific fault which is causing the problem. The pitching motion is sequential and often an original fault leads to a series of other faults or actions.
It is not necessary that each and every pitcher use these specific techniques. If the end result is that a pitcher is successful with his own style and motion, do not change him.
Use the following breakdown as a guide and checklist.
1. Position on the rubber
- The pivot foot is in front of and parallel to the rubber with only the outside edge of the instep actually touching the rubber.
- The RHP works from the right half of the rubber, the LHP from the left half. This angle enhances the angle of a breaking pitch.
- Stand upright, balanced, and relaxed when taking the sign. Hands must be clearly apart with the pitching hand at the side or back.
- Hold the ball in the pitching hand for feel and grip, plus it gives the pitcher a quick pick off move. The pitcher adjusts the grip for various pitches as he brings the hands together.
3. Coming set
- Coming set is the movement used to get into the pitching position. The pitcher can come set in various ways, but I prefer the pitcher to use a little forward, then backward rocker step for body rhythm, relaxation and balance. The feet should be about shoulder width apart.
- The pitcher must come to a complete stop, or use a change of direction with his hands.
- Stop at least above the belt. The RHP to stop between the letters and the chin so the pitcher can break the hands downward and not bounce the hands up as he starts the motion.
- During the stop, the front shoulder and front hip should be closed and aligned directly to the plate. Check the runner, and vary the looks and the holding time.
4. Leg lift
- The RHP must quicken up and reduce the height of his lead leg lift.
- A good technique to use is to bring the lead knee back to the pivot leg thigh area which transfers the body weight over the pivot leg. A little leg lift is necessary to allow time for the pitching arm to make its normal arm swing to the cocked position, and to transfer some body weight and momentum back before starting the body forward.
5. Hand break
- The hands should break down along the mid-line of the body between the letters and the belt. The action of the pitching arm should be down back and up, exactly the same as in the wind up. The RHP may want to break the hands on the first downward movement.
- The LHP may use a lot more preliminary hand action of up and down to hold and deceive the runner (runner on first only), but the RHP must break quickly to get the hand up into a good cocked position and unload the ball quickly.
6. Arm motion
- After the hand break, the pitcher's motion and arm action should be the same as from the wind-up.
7. Slide step technique
- This is an effective pitching technique to control base runners, but should be used sparingly because it necessitates a change in arm action, causes more stress on the shoulder, and often negatively affects control.
- It's effective to use occasionally on pitch-outs, on high percentage steal attempt situations, and is a good way to vary the pitching rhythm to prevent runners from getting a consistent read on the pitcher.
8. Modified slide step technique
- Because the true slide step previously described often negatively affects control and causes early arm fatigue, I prefer and teach the modified slide step. This technique does take slightly longer to unload the pitch than with the true slide step, but it is much quicker than a normal leg lift.
- With the modified slide step, the pitcher rocks back quickly as he breaks the lead knee back quickly before slide stepping outward. This action helps to keep his weight back and not rush. Also on first movement, the pitcher breaks his hands downward quickly. These two adjustments allow the pitcher to use his normal arm action which should help his control.
DID YOU KNOW?
Most left hand pitchers don't develop the slide step, but I've come to believe it is a very effective technique on occasion for lefties.
With a runner on first, the modified slide step presents another read for the runner. It's almost like a quick pitch. It's also effective against runners who like to gamble steal on first movement.
But the most effective use of the slide step for the lefty, is with a runner on 2nd base. This technique allows the left hand pitcher to unload the ball quickly and vary his motion.
The left hander should also develop a pick off move off the modified slide step . Just break the hands quickly, slide step within the 45 degree angle towards first base without using the normal lift of the lead leg and foot. This in conjunction with a good step back move makes it real difficult for the runner to get a consistent read on the left hand pitcher.
Special situations where pitchers should ALWAYS pitch from the set position
I always encourage pitchers to pitch out of the stretch with runners on base. Any base. Even bases loaded or a runner on third.
But even if you don't subscribe to this philosophy, you should always pitch from the set position in the following situations:
- Runner on third, less than 2 outs, take away the squeeze attempt.
- Bases loaded, three-two count, two outs. Keep the force out in order.
- When certain pick off plays have been called.
9 secrets to holding runners
Here are a few basic techniques to develop which will help you be a more effective at controlling base runners.
- Recognize the steal situation, anticipate it.
- Develop the slide step technique to use in a probable steal situation.
- Vary your rhythm, time, and head looks when pitching. Don't let the runner time or get a consistent read on you. Many pitchers are creatures of habit and use the same motion all the time.
- Use a pitch-out more often on real good runners and in steal situations. After a pitch-out, when the runner didn't go, always throw to first with your good move.
- Use the step-back technique to break runner's reads. Then get on the rubber and pitch barely looking at the runner.
- Develop a pick-off move to 1st which incorporates the first part of your normal delivery.
- Use various slower moves to set up your best moves.
- Always throw over a on a 3-2 count with 2 outs.
- Occasionally use the "repeat play" after a pick-off attempt versus a runner who leaves the base quickly.
Learn more about my workout programs for pitchers
One of the big misconceptions in baseball is that playing the game keeps you in shape to pitch. I wish that was true. It's not.
To get to the next level, preparation is everything. Big league pitchers spend far more time preparing to pitch than actually pitching.
If you believe adding velocity could be critical to your success, check out my conditioning and throwing programs for baseball pitchers of all ages.
What do you think?
Now it's time to hear from you:
Are there any tips or stretch pitching mechanics that I missed?
Or maybe you have an idea of how I can make this article even better.
Either way, leave a comment and let me know.
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