We all know the #1 priority for a pitcher is to get the batter out.
But with the aggressive running style of today's game, a pitcher must also be adept at holding runners by developing quick, compact mechanics pitching from the stretch or set position.
Did you know that the most important pitches thrown in any game will happen while a pitcher is pitching from the stretch?
Think about it for a sec: Almost every crucial pitch, in any game, almost always happens when a pitcher is throwing with runners on base and in scoring position.
In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know about pitching out of the stretch, holding runners and getting out of tough situations to help your team win.
But before we get into some of my favorite tips for pitching out of the stretch, check out this pitch from David Price. Price is a perfect example of a big league pitcher who has great mechanics out of the stretch:
Pitching with runners on base
With a runner at first base, a left-hand pitcher like David Price has a major advantage when pitching from the stretch. Not only is the left hander facing the runner at first base, but he also does not have to change or adjust his leg lift, hand break, or arm action.
For a righty, it's different. With a runner at first base, the right-hand pitcher needs to lower and quicken the leg lift, quicken the arm action, vary his motion, and unload the pitch as quickly as possible.
With a runner at second base, both righties and lefties should quicken up and adjust their delivery.
The point I want to emphasize is that it is extremely important to develop and use a consistently quick delivery from the set position to discourage teams from running on you.
You can do this three ways:
- Deliver the ball to the catcher under 1.3 seconds.
A quick runner takes about 4 seconds to get from first base to second. A good throwing catcher takes about 2.0 seconds to receive the ball and get it to second base for the tag. Let's add them up: Pitcher 1.3 seconds + Catcher 2.0 seconds = 3.3 seconds. This gives you a much needed 0.7 seconds margin of error.
- Throw quality pitches while remaining under the 1.3 sec limit.
Use an abbreviated leg lift (such as the modified slide step) and a quicker hand-break in order to maintain your ability to get into proper position maximizing your velocity and command.
- Develop a quick pick-off move with an accurate throw.
The most important concept to understand when pitching from the stretch is how to control the base runners. I said "control base runners ... not "pick off base runners." Believe it or not, there is a huge difference in the strategic approach of the two. Instead, keep runners close to the bag by having quick feet and a short arm swing so you can deliver the ball quickly and accurately to the first baseman.
Basic pitching mechanics for the stretch
The following tips can help any pitcher develop quick and effective stretch mechanics.
1. Position on the rubber
- The pivot foot is in front of and parallel to the rubber with only the outside edge of the instep actually touching the rubber.
- The RHP works from the right half of the rubber, the LHP from the left half. This angle enhances the angle of a breaking pitch.
- Stand upright, balanced, and relaxed when taking the sign. Hands must be clearly apart with the pitching hand at the side or back.
- Hold the ball in the pitching hand for feel and grip, plus it gives the pitcher a quick pick off move. The pitcher adjusts the grip for various pitches as he brings the hands together.
3. Coming set
- Coming set is the movement used to get into the pitching position. The pitcher can come set in various ways, but I prefer the pitcher to use a little forward, then backward rocker step for body rhythm, relaxation and balance. The feet should be about shoulder width apart.
- The pitcher must come to a complete stop, or use a change of direction with his hands.
- Stop at least above the belt. The RHP to stop between the letters and the chin so the pitcher can break the hands downward and not bounce the hands up as he starts the motion.
- During the stop, the front shoulder and front hip should be closed and aligned directly to the plate. Check the runner, and vary the looks and the holding time.
4. Leg lift
- The RHP must quicken up and reduce the height of his lead leg lift.
- A good leg lift technique to use is called a Modified Slide Step. With the modified slide step, the pitcher rocks back quickly as he breaks the lead knee back quickly before slide stepping outward.
- Bring the lead knee back to the pivot leg thigh area, which transfers the body weight over the pivot leg.
- A little leg lift is necessary to allow time for the pitching arm to make its normal arm swing to the cocked position, and to transfer some body weight and momentum back before starting the body forward.
- This action helps to keep his weight back and not rush. Also on first movement, the pitcher breaks his hands downward quickly. These two adjustments allow the pitcher to use his normal arm action which should help his control.
- Note: A true Slide Step (with no leg lift at all, you just step toward home plate) often negatively affects control and causes early arm fatigue. However, it can be effective to use occasionally on pitch-outs, on high percentage steal attempt situations, and is sometimes a good way to vary the pitching rhythm to prevent runners from getting a consistent read on the pitcher. I just wouldn't pitch with it all the time; I'd use the Modified Slide Step.
5. Hand break
- The hands should break down quickly along the mid-line of the body between the letters and the belt. The action of the pitching arm should be down back and up, exactly the same as in the wind up. The RHP may want to break the hands on the first downward movement.
- The LHP may use a lot more preliminary hand action of up and down to hold and deceive the runner (runner on first only), but the RHP must break quickly to get the hand up into a good cocked position and unload the ball quickly.
- Hands break thumbs down in center of body as leg starts down.
- Lead with hip.
- Lead leg drops down and drifts out along the ground, slightly in front of the lead hip, with side of shoe.
- Front foot closed.
- Back foot pushes down and back against the ground and rubber using full bottom foot.
- Back knee stays over back foot.
- Throwing arm flexed, fingers on top of the ball.
- Head stays level.
- Hips open as foot turns over to land.
- Hip opening is the signal to get throwing hand up; both elbows come up to shoulders - glove elbow slightly above shoulders, throwing elbow slightly below shoulders.
- Trunk still closed.
7. Stride foot contact
- Lands flat footed.
- Lands front foot closed 1-2 inches across midline.
- Landing knee flexes 135 degrees.
- Stride length about 90% of body height.
- Trunk is closed.
- Back foot heel comes up as hip comes forward.
- Weight transferred to front of posting foot.
- Head stays level and back behind belt buckle — nose over belly button.
8. Arm cocking
- Hip opening is signal to get the throwing hand up into cocking position.
- Shoulders lined up between home and second base with lead elbow pointing at target ready to start down — glove getting ready to tuck.
- Head stays back behind belt buckle.
- Arm is cocked back and elbow is slightly below shoulder height (the elbow should be about the same height as the throwing arm pec).
- Throwing hand is cap high.
- Ball facing 3B for righty, with ball is closer to 3B than elbow. Ball facing 1B for lefty with ball closer to 1B than elbow.
- Chest is thrust out which brings elbow behind the line of the trunk.
- Front knee braces up so trunk can rotate and speed up the arm.
- Lead arm elbow pulls in to accelerate trunk rotation.
- Trunk starts to turn before head comes forward.
9. Maximum external rotation
- Hip and trunk begin rotation over the frnt hip and braced front leg.
- Trunk squares to the plate.
- Forearm lays hand back nearly parallel to ground.
- Throwing elbow just ahead of trunk.
10. Arm acceleration
- Pitcher focuses on driving the front shoulder down to initiate trunk flexion, which is the last opportunity before ball releas to create more velocity.
- Trunk powerfully flexes forward pulling backside through.
- Back foot heel up, back foot toe still in contact with ground.
- Trunk flexes forward.
- Throwing arm goes to full extension with fingers behind the ball.
- Elbow inline with shoulders.
- Head is level and still inlne toward the target.
- Trunk flexing forward pulls backside away from rubber.
- Back heel up facing back.
- Head and trunk move out over the landing knee.
- Glove pulled in.
12. Arm deceleration
- Long arc of deceleration.
- Transfer of forces onto the major muscle groups of the trunk and legs.
- Throwing hand finishes outside of lead leg.
13. Maximum internal rotation
- Shows back of throwing shoulder to hitter.
- As lead leg goes to extension, hip comes up over braced front leg; trunk flexes forward to full hip extension.
- Head stays level as it tracks ball to target.
- Glove pulled to side.
- Head finished just outside lead knee.
- Trunk flexes forward to near flat back position.
- Full body weight supported by braced lead leg.
- Head and shoulder finish out and over landing foot.
- Throwing hand finishes down and outside of lead leg shin.
- Back of shoulder is facing hitter.
- Pitcher tracks ball to target and readies to field position.
DID YOU KNOW?
Most left hand pitchers don't develop the slide step, but I've come to believe it is a very effective technique on occasion for lefties.
With a runner on first, the modified slide step presents another read for the runner. It's almost like a quick pitch. It's also effective against runners who like to gamble steal on first movement.
But the most effective use of the slide step for the lefty, is with a runner on 2nd base. This technique allows the left hand pitcher to unload the ball quickly and vary his motion.
The left hander should also develop a pick off move off the modified slide step . Just break the hands quickly, slide step within the 45 degree angle towards first base without using the normal lift of the lead leg and foot. This in conjunction with a good step back move makes it real difficult for the runner to get a consistent read on the left hand pitcher.
Pitching out of the stretch
Lastly, I always encourage pitchers to pitch out of the stretch with runners on base. Any base. Even bases loaded or a runner on third.
But even if you don't subscribe to this philosophy, you should always pitch out of the stretch in the following situations:
- Runner on third, less than 2 outs, take away the squeeze attempt.
- Bases loaded, three-two count, two outs. Keep the force out in order.
- When certain pick off plays have been called.
What do you think?
Now it's time to hear from you:
Are there any tips on pitching out of the stretch that I missed?
Or maybe you have an idea of how I can make this article even better.
Either way, leave a comment below and let me know.