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Moving Beyond the Fastball to the Changeup

When a softball pitcher has mastered her fastball, it’s time to add more options to her arsenal. Longtime softball coach Joe Catalano believes in a specific progression, teaching one new pitch at a time.

Catalano, who has coached at Division I schools Niagara University, Canisius College, and the University of Buffalo, as well as high school and travel softball teams in western New York, says a changeup is the most important second pitch to learn.

“It is a great weapon to use to keep hitters off balance when batters have started hitting their fastball,” Catalano said.

Catalano shared his tips on teaching the changeup:

Three Rules of the Changeup

Explain to the pitcher that this pitch should be a lot slower than her fastball, anywhere from 8-15 mph slower, speed-wise. The purpose of the pitch is to fool the hitter. 

1. Make the pitch look exactly like her fastball. That means her motion and delivery are identical to her fastball mechanics.

2. Keep the pitch low in the zone, around the knees. Many hitters struggle swinging at low changeups. If the changeup is too high, it gives the hitter a chance to recoil and possibly drive the pitch.

  1. 3. Throw it for a strike. Don’t fool a batter with a ball. The only exception is when using it as a waste or set-up pitch.

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Teaching a Changeup

The following steps can be used to teach a backdoor changeup. The other changeup grips can easily be substituted.

1. Start by having the pitcher stand about 10 feet from the catcher on a 45-degree angle with feet parallel. Put a ball in her hand and have her continue to use their fastball (two- or four-seam) grip.

2. Take the pitcher’s hand and, using a very short backswing, turn her hand backwards at the release point. Have her release ball with a backward snapping motion, and then have her point her fingers into the catcher’s glove on follow through. Another goal is to keep the ball flat throughout the pitch making it look like a fastball.

3. Repeat this procedure several times until you feel comfortable with having the pitcher try on her own. Then have her do 10-20 repetitions on her own.

4. Move the pitcher back to about 20-25 feet and allow for a bigger arm circle. The pitcher is instructed to follow the same mechanics as from the shorter distance. When you feel she has a firm grasp on the grip, release point and follow through, move her to the mound.

5. On the mound, the pitcher can go through her full motion, but without a ball. Take 5-10 reps to get a feel for the technique of throwing the pitch. Start practicing the pitch while emphasizing that it could take anywhere from 300-600 reps to get comfortable throwing the pitch.

  1. 6. Go over adjustments for every throw. A few adjustments for her to understand are that if the ball is going too fast, she should set it deeper in her hand or she can spread her fingers wide on her release. At no time do you want her to slow down her motion. Targeting adjustments are the same as if she were throwing her fastball. 

Different Changeup Options

Three other changeup options are the palm, circle, and knuckle. For all three the technique is identical. The only difference is the grip. Follow the same routine as with the backdoor change.

Palm: Have the pitcher set the ball deep in her hand and squeeze the ball with only the thumb and pinkie finger. You want her to take a full circle and about 12 inches before the ball reaches her hip, you want her to bend her elbow and shove the ball to the glove. The follow through should take the fingers right to the catcher’s glove.

Circle: The pitcher sets the ball in her hand with the thumb and index finger touching and forming a circle.

Knuckle: The pitcher holds the ball with her fastball grip with the thumb and pinkie. Then bend one, two or three fingers to knuckle the ball depending on her level of comfort and control of the ball. 

Drills to Practice a Changeup

Cone Drill: Set up a small cone, anywhere from 12-18 inches high behind the plate. Give the pitcher a bucket of balls and have her throw her changeup, trying to hit the cone with the ball. Go over adjustments pitch-by-pitch. As the pitcher gets more acclimated throwing the changeup, move the cone to the corners of the plate. The drill is great for helping her concentrate on her form, while having some fun trying to hit the cone.

Alternate Pitch Drill: The pitcher throws a fastball followed by a changeup. Corrections are made for every pitch thrown. This drill gives the pitcher immediate feedback on the difference in speed between these pitchers. It is during this drill that you should go over the rules for throwing this pitch.

When the pitcher has mastered the changeup — meaning she can throw it for strikes in a game — it’s on to the next pitch. Catalano then teaches the movement pitches in the following order: drop ball, curveball, drop curve, screwball and rise ball.

From GameChanger and Tom Glave.

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