Michelle (Fridey) Switzer, former DI catcher and current high school and travel ball coach shares her tips on catching low movement pitches. Learn more about Michelle and get more great softball tips at softballwins.com.
Michelle grew up catching her sister's fastball with a natural drop motion. I teach all my pitchers to put this motion on their fastballs as well as teaching a strong drop ball. The real secret to making this pitch effective is having a catcher that can make it look good. Be sure to share with your catcher! :-)
Pitchers work hard to perfect their pitches. They are in the gym countless additional hours outside of practice to get to where they need to be to lead the team. The pitcher has a lot of responsibility and pressure to make sure that she brings forth the best she can every time she steps on the mound. This makes the catching position equally as important to make sure we are capable of supporting the pitcher in every way we can. When supporting the pitcher the right way, we can alter the outcome of the game by getting pitches called strikes. If executed the correctly the catcher has a huge role in the amount of strikes that a pitcher gets called.
As catchers our job is to make the pitcher look good. Every single pitch that she throws needs to look enhanced by YOU! Low pitches can be hard to catch for any catcher, but it is our job to learn to not only catch those pitches, but make them look appealing to the umpire. Unless the ball is on the ground, the pitch MUST be caught with the thumb underneath the ball. As soon as your fingers move down towards the ground, the umpire will call that pitch a ball. One of the hardest parts of this is recognizing which pitches need to be blocked because they will hit the ground and which pitches need to be framed because they will not hit the ground. Below are some steps that will help you to make early decisions between the pitches that need to be framed and the ones that need to be blocked:
1. Low Target, Wide Base–
Too often catchers do not have targets located in the appropriate location. Their targets are simply too high and because of that, their stance is too high. Consider, for a moment, the types pitches that you like to hit. If you are like most hitters, you probably prefer a waist high pitch. These are typically the pitches you see go over the fence. In order to increase your effectiveness as a battery, you NEED to be able to give your pitcher nice low targets at the knee. Get your feet wider in order to get lower. It might feel uncomfortable at first but this will allow you to be more agile, quiet, quick and balanced behind the plate. A wide base and low target is a no brainer!
2. Keep your body low –NOSE BEHIND KNUCKLE!
An effective bunter will always have their eyes peering just above their bat because it allows them to see the ball hit the bat and increases the chance of them getting the bunt down on the ground. In the same way, our eyes need to be in line with where the ball is when we catch whether the ball is inside, outside or low! Since your target is low, getting your nose behind your glove knuckle will help to keep your BODY low. Your eyes should be peering right above your glove. Being in this position helps to track the spin of the ball and better anticipate where the ball will end up by the time it reaches your glove. Make this small change and see the time in which you decide whether pitches go on the ground and which stay off the ground greatly improve.
3. Increase Your Flexibility-
We’ve covered the fact that you need to get low with the ball and keep your nose behind your knuckle, but what if we can’t get low enough when the ball drops? There are plenty of catchers that simply are not flexible enough to get low with each pitch. Thankfully flexibility is a skill we can all improve upon. Take the time to stretch your QUADRICEPS, HAMSTRINGS, GROIN and HIP FLEXORS after EVERY warm up, workout and practice. The best time to stretch is when your body is warm. This helps to permanently elongate your muscles so that you will gain a greater range of motion through your squat!
4. Know Your Pitcher-
This can’t be stressed enough. You should be catching for your pitcher outside of practice. If your pitcher asks if you can catch for her for a lesson or just for practice, you need to make the time to say yes. When I was on certain teams in my life, this was a common problem. There would be pitchers who would want to get in extra workouts outside of practice and asked a catcher to catch for them. I couldn’t believe how many catchers would simply not catch for the pitchers because they were too busy or did not feel like it. They would encourage pitchers to have younger catchers catch for them because they “did their time.” What an awful mentality! What they did not realize was that they were only hurting themselves. They lost the opportunity to not only make the pitchers better, but to increase their effectiveness when catching for their pitchers. Look for opportunities to catch for your pitchers outside of practice. Be the one to ask them if you can catch for them. Make sure to work on change ups, drop balls and other low pitches that they have so that you can read their spin, know their movement and adjust to it.
5. Be ATHLETIC! –
Trust yourself to get to your knees to block as quickly as possible. Blocking drills must be practiced every single time you have practice. Just like an infielder practices ground balls and you practice hitting every practice, blocking should be just as automatic in your everyday routine. This will help to increase your athleticism and make it seem second nature to drop to your knees and block. It is so easy for coaches to forget to work with the catcher in a practice. Be sure that you remind your coach that you’d like to work on blocking or come before or stay after practice to do blocking drills so that you are comfortable going down to your knees and getting back up after a block.