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NFCA Instructional Corner: Practice (Posted October 10, 2002)

By Victor A. Castillo, Head Coach

San Antonio Holmes High School (Texas)

"Must be able to pitch batting practice." Sound familiar? Read today's coaching prerequisites and one will almost guarantee to find the need for a fastpitch hurler. Having an individual on staff who is able to pitch batting practice is almost a necessity and, by all means, crucial to both offense and defense. This article will discuss the usage of the batting practice pitcher and the many advantages that she/he yields to the nucleus of the team.

Perhaps, one of the most important benefits that a batting practice pitcher (BPP) brings to the field is the ability to emulate opposing pitchers and their pitches, tendencies and style. For example, if the opposing pitcher lives off a riseball, then the BPP would be best served pitching batting practice according to their type of rise (three-quarter or full). A dropball pitcher would be best prepared for by moving the hitter to the front of the box, hence the adjustment in practice. A player who is having trouble with change-ups and the transference of leg weight distribution may have the opportunity to hit from the uncoiled batting position while improving their reaction time. In all three cases, the advantage of recognition and adjustment is utilized for a more efficient at-bat.

More often than not, a pitcher's tendencies are at careful scrutiny by opposing scouting teams. In a situation where a pitcher's tendencies are "deciphered," the scouting team has the upper hand and the advantage in preparing for their meeting. Let's use an outside and away pitcher to illustrate this point. It is said that the safest pitch to throw is an outside drop. However, in most cases, teams counter with the adjustment of crowding the plate, resulting in a smaller strike zone for the pitcher and the denial of the "out and away spot." In turn, the pitchers adjust by trying to "handcuff" their foes by going inside.

Having said this, batters may prepare in practice by inside speed toss drills, inside-out swings off the tee, and of course live inside pitching. A supplementary drill for potential inside pitches is the tennis ball drill in which the batter practices dipping the inside shoulder in and away from the incoming pitch, thus, "rolling the ball off her back." This drill provides a safe alternative to taking a softball off the back or jumping out of the way and giving up a base-runner/potential run.

Rhythm is a word that is interchangeable between hurlers and sluggers. In most cases, batters are trying to keep their rhythm while trying to break the timing of the pitcher. Pitchers on the other hand, are taught to keep their rhythm while trying to avoid falling into a pace that is reflected in the batter's BP. In the case where a team expects to be presented with a unique pitching rhythm (quick pitcher or stall pitcher), the BPP may prepare the practicing batters by pitching in the same time lapse. It is not the responsibility of a single player to take on this task; rather it takes a conscious effort of the team to hinder the focus and momentum of the opposing pitcher. A coach may sustain optimum benefit from grouping the top, middle and bottom of the line-up in batting practice while working toward a logistical synchronized time-phase.

When preparing one's offensive strategy, the BPP also has the advantage of recognizing undesired batting mechanics that hinder plate performance. These include dipping, opening up prematurely, stepping out, opening the front foot towards the pitcher, pulling the head out, dropping the hands while in the coiled position and dragging the bat through the strike zone. Once a problem is targeted, the hitter should be directed towards the nearest tee or station to rectify the undesired habit. We must always ensure that the slugger is thinking of one thing once she steps in the box: "See the ball, hit the ball."

In short, it is one thing to have someone throwing batting practice, yet another to have a management contingency plan. There are additional advantages to having a BPP, such as defensive and mental advantages, as well as not using your starting pitchers to conduct batting practice. However, this article has focused on the BP from the offensive "team" standpoint. Initially, in order to prepare one's batters, a scouting report is necessary to evoke an organized hitting program. Only then can a coach parallel the advantages of the hurler by bridging the gap of uncertainty, thus, gaining a psychological edge while functioning as a flexible cohesive offensive unit.