In today’s blog post, we are talking about pitching drills and the Backhanded and Knuckleball Change-ups. Change-up pitching drills are great for any pitcher to work on, not matter what their level of experience is with backhanded, knuckleball and fast ball pitching.
Pitching Drills: The Backhanded Change-up
The backhanded change-up is usually the first change-up that I’ll try to teach my younger athletes. If I have an athlete that’s a little older and I notice she doesn’t seem to be as flexible with her arm, then I probably wouldn’t have her throw the backhanded change-up, but since the younger ones are a little more flexible I think the backhanded change-up is a good one. The one thing that’s good about it is that you can keep your arm speed up and it’ll still look like you’re going to throw a hard pitch and it’ll come out slow.
So we’re going to have the same grip as our fastball, except the spin on it is going to be a back spin. And she’s going to release the ball so that the back of her hand’s coming through first and it’s just rolling off her fingertips. To start out this pitch, this is the way I have them do it. On any pitch that they learn, we just work on spins first. She can start with her feet together if she wants, and she’s just going to try to toss the ball to her catcher and try to get the right spin on it. This is very basic pitching mechanics. Make sure that her shoulders don’t lean forward when she throws her change-up. She’s got to be nice and tall, keep her shoulder back. Don’t lean. Stay tall.
And by doing that, if you can try to keep their shoulders nice and still and tall, their release point’s going to end up being in that same spot every time. The change-up’s going to be a little more out in front of their hips. They can start releasing a little early, but by the time they release it it’s going to be a little out in front of their hips. And the one thing we want to start, even from here, is to try to get the back spin on the ball. Try to work on that first. Just try to get back spin. Then try to get the ball to go straight, like a fastball would. A fastball doesn’t have an arc on it. So we don’t want our change-up to do that either. We want to make sure it’s straight in. So that’s something she can work on – just having it go straight.
The one thing that we don’t want to do on our follow-through is pull up on the ball. If she pulls up on the ball, she’s going to get a lot of that arc on the ball. So her fingertips are going to be straight and she’s reaching her target and her arm is straight.
From here, she’s going to work her way back a few feet. And then get into her open position. From here I want her to start with her right arm pointing straight at the target. And what I do is I actually walk through the pitch with them, so I’ll start to turn the ball at the top, okay? This is really important. A lot of girls will throw a backhanded change-up, but they’re not getting the right back spin, they’re not getting complete back spin on the ball. So it comes out too fast. And one of the reasons is simply because they’re not turning it fast enough. If you think about it, during her pitch she’s going to be throwing this at full speed. And if she tries to turn it down, she’s going to end up coming out of the side of her hand instead of out of the back of her hand. So she needs to go up to the top. When she gets to her ear, she’s going to start turning it back, and her shoulder’s going to kind of drop a little bit. And this is why I said you have to be a little flexible to do this. (You don’t want to have an older student that has a lot of muscle and they can’t really turn their arm that way. It’s probably better to throw a different change-up.) And then she’s going to release the ball from there.
So this is what I do. I start turning the ball, she’s looking at her target, and when I say go she’s going to throw it. And she’s going to go ahead and drag. But I want to make sure that her hand is in the right position. I want to make sure she’s turning it. And even if you have some girls that have thrown this pitch for a long time, at some point some of my older athletes will have to go back to the very basic stuff again. Because, for some reason, the pitches don’t work after a while. She’s got to be able to go back to the very basics, shorten it up, go back to just the back spins again, and then work her way back.
Why is the drag is so important? They will not be able to throw this pitch for a strike if she’s not dragging hard enough. So she’s got to really dig through that dirt to find her release point. The drag also helps her keep her shoulders back so she can find the release point.
The important thing to know about change-ups is they don’t always need to be strikes. I have some of my students’ parents come in and go, “Well, she’s still not throwing very many strikes with it so I don’t want her to throw it in a game.” Well, if she’s getting ahead in the count with her fastballs, it’s a good idea just to have her throw. If she’s ahead in the count, have her throw a change-up. Because what happens is they may do okay with it during practice, but when they get in games they have a hard time throwing it. Because once the catcher gives them their sign for the change-up, they’re thinking, you know, what if I mess up. Or if they have any negative thoughts in their head, it’s just not going to work. So they need to get used to receiving that… you know, “I know my coach is going to call a change-up. I have to just throw it.” So just like the coach calls for a fastball. You just throw the ball. You’ve got to get to the point where it gives you a change-up and you just throw it, you don’t think about it anymore. So there needs to come a time where she starts throwing these in games even if they’re not working perfectly. The girls will start swinging at them if she’s ahead in the count. Even if it’s a bad pitch they made, just swing at it.
Pitching Drills: Knuckle Ball Change-up
The next change-up we’re going to go over is a knuckle ball. Your athlete is going to raise her knuckles on the flat part of the ball. You don’t want to hold it on the seam. So she kind of feels like she’s pushing her nails into the ball. And when she releases, she’s going to try not to snap. Her wrist is going to be kind of stiff and she’s going to push the ball through her release and try not to get any spin. Now this is something that you can also do with the backhanded change-up. Shorten it up and just work on pushing the ball and trying not to get any spin at all on it. And then she can work her way back little by little. So she will try not to get any spin, take a step back. Come back and do it again. She’s going to throw it again and see what happens. Try to push the ball. The most important thing is to make sure that when they learn a new pitch, they start changing things and they start leaning forward and they try to aim the ball – make sure that the proper mechanics are there again.
Follow-through on your knuckle ball would just be to push the ball. You don’t really need to come up on it. Just relax your arm at the end. So eventually we like to get no spin on it.
For a change-up, I would say you want to take off about 10-15 miles an hour on your fastball. So if you know somebody that has a radar gun or if you have a radar gun, clock the fastball. Then clock the change-up and try to take about 15 miles an hour off of it.
If you have a pitcher that doesn’t have a change-up at all right now, take her best pitch, even if it’s a fastball, and take 15 miles an hour off the pitch. Really, we’re just trying to throw something that she can take 15 miles an hour off of it and be comfortable in the game throwing. If I have some students that throw a good curveball, they’ll throw an off-speed curve for their change-up.
If you are looking for more great pitching drills, be sure to check out my Youth Softball Throwing and Catching Skills series, complete with video demonstrations! And be sure to Become a Fan on Facebook, where I will share more awesome pitching drills, tips and techniques!