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Teaching the Rise Ball

Longtime softball coach Joe Catalano teaches one movement pitch at a time. He makes sure a pitcher has mastered and understands the previous one before teaching a new pitch. Most importantly, that means successfully throwing the pitch for strikes in a game situation.

Catalano, who has coached at Division I schools Niagara University, Canisius College and the University of Buffalo, and has coached high school and travel softball teams in the western New York area, has shared with The Season tips on teaching pitches in the following progression: fastball, changeup, drop ball, curveball, drop curve and screwball.

When his pitchers have learned those pitches, he moves on to the final pitch — the rise ball.

“The rise ball is one of the hardest pitches to master and the main reason why a lot of coaches save this pitch for last in her learning progression,” Catalano said.

The rise ball is difficult for two reasons:

  • 1. You are asking the pitcher to defy gravity by trying to get the ball to rise as it approaches the batter.
  • 2. It is a “good news, bad news” pitch. When thrown correctly the pitcher will record more strikeouts than any of her other pitches. But when she misses, it can result in her giving up a lot of home runs.

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About the Rise Ball

A lot of pitchers get confused when throwing this pitch because they want to call a high fastball a rise ball. The difference between the two is that a high fastball stays on the same upward plane from release to catcher’s glove. The rise ball breaks sharply upward approximately 8-10 feet in front of the plate.

“The two best rise ball pitchers I have ever worked with were Lindsay Garbacz-Morris, a standout at Canisius College, and Michelle Krier, still the all-time strikeout leader at Kenmore West High School,” Catalano said. “What they both had in common was the ability to put tremendous backspin on the ball and the ability to get that late break needed to make the pitch extremely effective. They both tried to get the ball to look inviting to the hitter and then rise just out of the strike zone.”

The best rise balls go up and over the strike zone and lead to many strikeouts or pop ups.

Rules of the Rise Ball

There are many technique adjustments that the pitcher should make as opposed to throwing her fastball:

Grip: The pitcher can experiment with a few grips based on the size of her hand. The “C” grip or the 4-seam fastball grip may work best. Catalano finds it effective to have the pitcher place her thumb along the side of one seam and her middle finger along the side of another with a seam separating the thumb and middle finger.

Stride: The stride should be longer than normal, and this is because it will help the pitcher get lower than normal at release point. Ideally, the pitcher should think of “dragging her knuckles” at the under portion of the release point.

Release: At the release, the pitcher should focus on having her hand/fingers facing third base (for right-handed pitchers) and first base (for LHP) over the ball or on top of the ball. She then aggressively turns her hand under the ball trying to get perfect backspin on the ball. The phrase here is to tell the pitcher to “get over then under the ball” at release point.

Posture: For all movement pitches, the pitcher should be reminded of the rule for correct posture: Where the head goes is where the body goes, and where the body goes is where the ball usually goes. Therefore, when throwing the rise ball the pitcher should try to tilt her head and shoulders backward as she is releasing the ball.

  1. Follow through: After releasing the ball, the pitcher should finish high with her throwing hand and point her index finger to the sky.

Teaching the Rise Ball

1. Start with teaching the correct spin on the ball. Catalano uses two drills learned from former Fordham University star pitcher Chelsea Plimpton to work on spin.

• Have the pitcher start in the open position, setting the ball in her hand at the release point and then simply have her turn her hand over the ball, flipping it over her back shoulder. The pitcher gets immediate feedback on the release and correct spin.

• Have the pitcher kneel on her front knee with her back knee up about 20-25 feet from the catcher (similar to the knee drill only the back knee is up for this drill). The pitcher starts with the ball in front of her knee and takes a full arm circle. When her hand reaches her back knee she uses the over/under technique at release and snaps the ball up at the catcher. The pitcher should slam her wrist into the knee allowing the ball to spin backward to the catcher. The catcher should be standing with her glove chest high. The goal is for the pitcher to get tremendous backspin on the ball and get the ball to go up.

  1. 2. Move the pitcher to the mound and start by going over one principle at a time. Stay with that one principle until the pitcher has mastered that technique before going on to the next one. The goal is to work on fundamentals, not control. Catalano uses the following progression: practice correct spin (seams must rotate backward), stride length (longer than normal), release point (hand over ball and snapping hand under ball while dragging her knuckles), followed by posture (lean back with head and shoulders), and follow through (point index finger to sky).
When you’re satisfied with the progress she is making, add speed of spin. The more spin = more break.

Drills to Practice the Rise ball

The Rope Drill: The coach sets up a rope 8 feet in front of the plate and anywhere from 3-4 feet off the ground, based on the height of the pitcher. Set up a second rope set up just at the back of home plate 4-6 inches higher than the first rope. The coach can use metal rods or broom poles to attach the ropes. The object of the drill is for the pitcher to get the ball to go under the rope in front of home plate and above the second rope.

This is an extremely difficult drill, so the coach may adjust the ropes to help the pitcher. The pitcher gets immediate feedback as to whether the ball is rising or not. She will understand how vital it is to get tremendous backspin on the ball and as much speed of spin as possible. It will also teach her what it means to drag her knuckles at release point.

The Long Toss Drill: The pitcher works her way back to a distance twice the normal distance and throws her rise ball. The main purpose of this drill is that it helps the pitcher with posture (leaning back with head and shoulders), staying low at release and lengthening her stride.

Wrapping Up the Pitching Progression

The rise ball requires an inordinate amount of repetitions and patience. The sooner the pitcher can throw this pitch in games, the better. Catalano says she should start by using it as a waste pitch or use when she has two strikes on the batter.

With the last pitch in her pitching arsenal, Catalano says a pitcher now has the opportunity to keep her team in every game. A coach’s job is now to make sure the pitcher is comfortable and confident on the mound.

From GameChanger and Tom Glave.

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