The radar gun can be so intimidating, can't it? How many stories have we heard (I know I have) about pitchers distracted by scouts and college coaches with their lawn...
Since this is primarily a pitching website it is time to talk about some pitching skills…Most kids (and parents)ask about throwing harder number one. And there are many good videos and websites from very good instructors who offer up drills and techniques for us all to put to the trial and error process.
When it comes to pitching mechanics each of us is unique in what we bring to the mound. It is important to be yourself physically and mentally if you seek to be great. What an instructor like me can do for you is help you stay mechanically efficient, physically healthy, and mentally confident in your ability to win. My best advice comes not as much from my personal experiences as from the thousands of pitching lessons I have conducted over 33 years. I have come up with some (unbelievably) random and creative techniques to help pitchers overcome mechanical obstacles. It is without fail that I find, each and every year, new drills and teaching methods that often say the same thing but in a different way. This is what I love about instructing, there is always something for me to learn and pass along.
So let’s talk curve ball. I am going to list, without pictures and videos, some of the methods and drills I have used and continue to use to this day. If you want photos and videos just email me and I will make one for you (cell phone cameras are a great tool). It should be noted that there are many ways to grip a curve. It is a personal feel and preference. Some use the middle finger for the pressure and others the pointer. Some throw with one finger on and one up or in a knuckle position. Some “grip and rip” others have a light and loose feel. Any are good if they work for you. If someone would like some suggestions I would be glad to talk more about it. The key is more in the hand position and arm path as well as utilizing the whole body from feet to fingers to avoid injury. In no particular order and off the top of my head here are some tips for the curve:
1. Hit the Blue Pad – I have a blue pad that many trainers use for kneeling and balance drills. I picked it up one day and had someone slap at it as I held it above their head at their arm slot. Like rapping or knocking at the door. Boom, there is your arm action for the fast ball. Now take the same pad over the head and “karate chop” the pad (door) as it is over the head. Yes, there is the curveball release.
So if you are a coach find a pad or mat you can handle and take you pitcher and try the same routine, then put a ball in his hand for the curve and have him chop the pad holding the ball. Then swing the pad directly in front as he makes is curveball motion for you…The chop should go down in front of his face as he chops the pad. This helps feel the point of release more in front of the pitcher.
I would often have the pitcher hit the pad once then go ahead and throw a curve, alternating back and forth until the release is looking better. You can master a curve ball without ever throwing a pitch!
2. Throw the water bottle – This is not new but it is new for a lot of young pitchers who have a problem getting their hand in a good curve ball position. This drill is nothing more than tossing a water bottle, end over end, back and forth to feel the fingers stay in front of the curveball. You often will hear pitching coaches say that a pitcher is “throwing the front of the ball”. This simply means that the ball tumbles over the fingers with a pure curve spin if the fingers lead the way. The water bottle will show the pitcher how the fingers work when he can flip it end over end.
3 Throw the “bone” – This a similar drill using a “dog bone” contraption. I recall reading about the great curveballer Barry Zito of the Athletics and Giants who grew up training with a similar tool made by his dad. Two baseballs fastened to a stick (dowl, rod, etc.), about 12 inches long. Throwing the bone end over end into a net or to a partner will show the correct end over end release for the curve. If it comes out sideways or if it is flying up in the air the pitcher and coach will see that the release point is not out in front enough.
4. L Screen to the Side – I put this one together for a few younger kids who had trouble finishing the curveball follow through, which should be down and practically under the opposite armpit. Many young pitchers don’t finish the curve (you will hear those exact words from coaches) which means they may be aiming and showing a tentative approach with little confidence.
Coaches, find an enclosed batting cage (it could be done outdoors but less chasing of balls involved). The pitcher goes on one end and a catcher on the other. About 20 feet out and at a position at 10:00 for righties and 2:00 for lefties place and L Screen that you stole from the guys hitting in the next cage. They won’t mind I’m sure.
The routine is this – Pitcher throws a fastball to the catcher, then follows with a curveball to the L-Screen 20 feet away and down. They may not be able to get it over there for a few tries but it can be done. And when they do it have them look at where their arm is after release – This is where it needs to be at 60 feet away as well. Once they hit the 20 footer then they follow up the same feeling but at 60 feet to the catcher. Repeat the cycle – fastball, short curveball, regular curveball, fastball, short, regular – as many time as necessary to get the finish down solid. This drill works.
There are four quick drills – I have at least 10 more – that can help develop a consistent curve ball release. I actually just developed a new drill last night while working with a HS pitcher and it was all he needed to tighten up his curve. I will save that one for another post – it may need a larger sample size to validate its effectiveness but I think it is a good one!
The point here is that there are many styles of pitching and many styles of teaching the art of pitching. If you are a coach I trust that you will work within your pitchers personal style to find a drill that will promote a healthy arm action and effective breaking ball.
As pitchers reach high school and become college prospects they will be scouted for their secondary pitches as much as their velocity – really they will. The fastball is critical but so is a powerful breaking ball!
A competitive pitcher is good but a competitor with the full arsenal of pitchers is destined for greatness. I hope some of this information will help.