There is more need for good relief pitching in Fastpitch softball than ever before. Notice, I didn’t say good relief pitchERS, because unlike baseball, softball pitchers need to be more of a hybrid breed. They need to be able to pitch as starters AND when duty calls – come into relief. Non-starting pitchers should start preparing for relief pitching the second they step in the dugout. Even though, we’re physically doing the same skill, there is a relief pitching mindset for softball pitchers that’s slightly different from a starter. Many pitchers panic when entering in relief. That’s not what your team needs from their leader on the mound. They need someone who is calm, confident, and can lead them through battle. There are ways to ensure you are ready and prepared to enter a game. The more prepared you are, the more confidently you can perform on the mound. It all starts with simply PAYING ATTENTION.
FIVE THINGS TO PAY ATTENTION TO BEFORE YOU’RE IN RELIEF.
1) KNOW THE STRIKE ZONE. Sounds simple right? Knowing where the umpires is calling balls and strikes can be the difference maker in your pitching performance, and ultimately, the game itself. When you’re in relief, you have to make a QUICK adjustment to the strike zone. You don’t have time to play around with batters. You’re expected to go in the game and get your defense off the field quickly. You need to KNOW where to throw the ball to get ahead of batters, and do your job successfully.
2) WATCH THE PITCHES BEING THROW. In this instance, I don’t mean the umpire’s strike zone. I mean take note of the location and types of pitches being thrown to the opposing team. If you can chart pitches during the game, that’s a great help to you when you’re in relief. This will provide you the opportunity to learn, ahead of time, which pitches the batters are struggling to hit vs. the ones they are hitting well. Obviously, if you’re playing the field, you don’t get to chart pitches, but it’s still vital to make mental notes during your time on defense. Also, check in with the pitch caller, pitcher, and/or catcher between innings to find out what’s working well and what’s getting hit. Paying attention to the pitches earlier in the game will give you time to develop a game plan to keep hitters off balance when it’s your time to pitch.
3) OBSERVE THE STARTER’S TENDENCIES. She’s your teammate and bullpen partner. You should be able to recognize when she’s having a great outing, and when she’s not. She may start off strong, but grow weary as the game progresses. You want to pay attention to her ability to get ahead in the count, and her efficiency (lots of outs on few pitches), as well as how the batters are adjusting to her. If you see her start to falter in any of these aspects, then you know it’s time to warm up if you haven’t already, or if you have warmed up, it’s time to mentally prepare yourself for game mode. Start prepping yourself now to make sure you’re ready when the coach needs you.
4) NOTICE OFFENSIVE ADJUSTMENTS. Even if the other team hasn’t yet put runs on the board, do you notice they’re hitting harder line drive outs, or more foul balls that travel a l-o-n-g way? Maybe the defense is having trouble fielding the ball cleanly. More baserunners in general? That means their timing to the ball is getting better. A pitching change may be imminent! You need to be ready.
5) KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS. What is it that you bring to the table that can help beat this team? Do you have a filthy change-up that will keep the hitters off balance? Do you induce a lot of easy ground balls that will get your team back on offense? It’s important that you understand your strengths, so you can attack hitters as soon as you enter the circle! Do whatever it is that you do well and give your team every opportunity to win!
If you pay attention to these 4 aspects of the game from the time the first pitch is thrown, you can trust that you’ll be prepared and ready to provide your team some great relief! Coaches, you have to coach the dugout as well. Often, pitchers don’t understand their role on the team if they’re not in the circle. It’s important that you work with them in developing this relief pitching mindset. Pitchers that aren’t pitching should sit near you during games as you call pitches and discuss what is going well, what’s not, the umpire’s strike zone, batters adjustments, etc. Ensure you’re talking to pitchers that are playing other positions between innings if they may make a relief appearance. Ensure all pitchers begin to strengthen this thought process so they can be ready to help your team win when they are called to action.
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