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Setting Up Hitters: The Ultimate Chess Match for Pitchers

Today's pitcher faces more challenges than ever before in that the hitters are constantly improving, athletes are becoming more physically fit, and weak opposing pitchers are few and far in between. All this adds to the importance of self-improvement, and with it a better understanding of this art called pitching.

A pitcher interested in such topics must of course first be a hard working individual, and possess sound pitching mechanics. She must have the ability to locate a variety of pitches, at different speeds, in a variety of situations. With this in mind, the process may begin with the following.

First: Know Yourself

You must be aware of which locations you can and cannot pitch to with particular pitches. This becomes essential as many bad pitches are thrown while trying to do something in a game which hasn't successfully been accomplished in practice.

You must be aware of the amount of movement you are getting on each pitch and of course, this will vary from one day to the the next, and from one ball to another. Curve balls, which don't curve, end up in the gap; this is known as a double, or worse.

Finally, you need to be able to change speeds in some way. This can be done through the use of a change up, gripping the ball with more of the palm in contact with the ball, or simply by eliminating a power point from your mechanics. Essentially, if you are aware of what is working and how well you are controlling your "stuff," you are well on your way to controlling the hitters. However, always be aware of that little voice, your "pride" which talks you into doing things which you cannot.

Second: Evaluate your Opponent

With the help of your catcher, you must observe each hitter and determine how best to get them out. What are their strengths and weaknesses?

When evaluating a hitter, most consider her size: is she tall or short, strong or weak, big or thin. A personís build can determine how well she can hit particular locations and pitches. A stronger, quicker player can handle the inner half of the plate more effectively and catch up with the power pitches with more regularity, but often struggle with patience. The opposite is often true about weaker, slower players.

You must consider her position in the batter's box. A person who is close to the plate, up in the box, or with a closed stance will usually struggle with the inside pitches, and balls up in the zone. Even if they hit these pitches, they will have a hard time keeping them in fair territory. A person back in the box, off of the plate, or with an open stance will usually struggle with off-speed pitches on the outer half of the plate. Also balls with movement and down in the zone will be effective against such a hitter.

Finally, be aware of the hitter's personality. Is she confident, anxious, aggressive? If so, keep the ball down and away, and off-speed with movement. If she appears timid, patient, looking for walks, or lacks confidence, then come after her with the heat. If you get ahead in the count, this type of hitter will often chase balls out of the zone.

Third: What is the Game Situation?

As a pitcher, you should initially consider the wind. Is it in my face? Then the breaking pitches will move more. Is it at my back? Then my fastball is going to have some extra jump.

Also, you should evaluate the score and inning, along with the positioning of the base runners. Do you need a ground ball or flyball? Do you want the ball to be pulled or hit to the opposite field Is a strikeout what you really need? The answers will dictate your locations and pitch selections.

A riseball or high fastball is more likely to result in a ball being hit into the air, where as a dropball or pitch low and away will often result in a ground ball in the infield. Striking out a hitter is an effective mixing of pitches in line with your skills and the opponents' weaknesses, along with the umpire's strike zone.

Do not underestimate the importance of working with the umpire, and not against him or her. Take advantage of what is being called for umpire's strikes. It will only help in the long run to get on an umpire's good side. Pouting and frowning will not lead to more strikes being called.

Also, control the momentum. When you are in a groove, keep the pitches coming. Avoid taking too much time on the mound. Your infielders will play better behind you if the pace is quicker, and you are throwing more strikes.

My final comments about winning this chess match against the hitter are these. Stay ahead in the count and set a goal for getting the first batter out in each inning. When you are ahead, the hitters become more defensive, and are more likely to swing at pitches which are tough to hit; and if you are constantly pitching with one out and no one on, you will go a long way towards eliminating the effectiveness of a bunt.

Good luck, pitch with confidence, and win the battles one batter at a time.