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Your Guide to Teaching the Screwball

The screwball can be a great go-to pitch, but it takes time — and patience — for a pitcher to learn this new movement pitch. Longtime softball coach Joe Catalano emphasizes the importance of waiting to teach a new movement pitch until after a pitcher has mastered the previous one and can successfully throw it 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, uses the following order when teaching pitches: fastball, changeup, drop ball, curveball, drop curve, screwball and rise ball.

“The coach must decide when to move on to (the) pitchers next pitch,” he said. “There should be a timeline based on age, skill level, and competency throwing all her other pitches successfully in the strike zone before taking on another pitch, especially one as difficult as the screw ball.

“Coaches should remind themselves that patience is a virtue, and while many parents and pitchers crave to take that next step, learning this pitch can be arduous and disconcerting if rushed into it.”

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Why the Screwball

For a right-handed pitcher, a screwball allows her to jam right-handed batters and tail away from slappers and left-handed hitters. It does the opposite for left-handed pitchers.

Jen Garcia, a standout pitcher at Canisius College in the early 2000s, threw the best screwball Catalano has ever witnessed. She was able to hit speeds in the mid-60s, had perfect spin on the ball, and was able to adjust the height of the pitch.

Rules of the Screwball

When throwing the screwball the following points must be adhered to:

  1. Grip: The grip can vary based on the pitcher’s hand size. The two most popular grips are the “C” grip and two-seam grip.

“C” grip: The pitcher places her thumb on one seam and her index finger on the opposite seam. There should be a seam connecting her thumb and index finger.

Two-seam grip: The pitcher places the index and middle fingers on top of the narrow seams and the thumb underneath and opposite them.

Spin: The ball must have sidespin as it breaks in on a right-handed batter by a right-handed pitcher.

Stride: For a right-handed pitcher, it is helpful if the pitcher strides to the left corner of the plate. Her stride should be aggressive and she should land firmly. The opposite works for a left-handed pitcher.

Release Point: As the pitcher brings her arm down to the release point, the pitcher has her thumb facing her side with her hand over the ball and the two seams facing third base. When she releases the ball, she twists her thumb out like she is opening a door or twisting open a jar. Her thumb comes backward trying to generate maximum spin on the ball. Her aim/focus point should be to throw the ball down the middle and get it to break to the corner.

  1. Follow Through: The follow through is hugely important because a good follow through will help the ball break more. A right-handed pitcher should tilt her head to the right at release and lean her whole body in the same direction just after release.

Teaching the Screwball

  1. The more sidespin and the faster the ball can spin, the better chance this screwball pitch will break. That is why it is so essential to spend the last part of every workout on speed drills. The two best speed drills are distance throwing and rapid fire.

Distance Throwing: Based on the pitcher’s age and maturity, she can finish her workout throwing from 50 to 100 feet. This drill helps with a pitcher’s follow through and will add speed/spin to her movement pitches.

Rapid Fire: The pitcher throws a pitch as fast as she can, and when she gets the ball back from the catcher, she immediately throws another fastball. The object is to get 10 pitches in 30 seconds. A coach can alter the drill by having the pitcher throw all screwballs. This helps with arm speed, stamina, spin, and release point.

One way to get the pitcher to understand the correct footwork, release, and follow through is to have her think about throwing an outside fastball. She will step out and at release twist her thumb out.

The screwball should start to break eight to 10 feet in front of the plate. A late break on movement pitches makes it very difficult for hitters to hold back their swing or get a solid piece of the ball.

  1. It is helpful to teach a pitcher to throw the screwball to at least three locations: at the knees, by the waist, and near the chest. Adjusting the release point by slightly tilting her hand up or down — and exaggerating on the follow through — will help her adjust to different locations.

Drills to Practice the Screwball

The Hand/Glove Drill: Have the catcher set up directly behind home plate and — for a right-handed pitcher throwing to a right-handed catcher — the pitcher aims, strides, and circles toward the catcher’s bare hand. At the release point she twists her hand and follows through to the glove. This really helps the pitcher understand how to stride, circle, release, and follow through on the pitch.

The Tee Drill: Set up a batting tee eight to 10 feet centered and directly in front of the plate. Put an empty bucket or cone on the corner of the plate. The object is to get the ball to go around the tee and hit the bucket. The pitcher gets instant feedback as to whether the ball is breaking or not. It forces her to get tremendous speed and sidespin on the ball. Don’t let her get discouraged because it is extremely difficult. You may want to adjust the tee closer to the corner when starting this drill.

Learning a difficult pitch like the screwball requires patience from both the pitcher and the coach.

“Learning this pitch is a huge hurdle to achieve and for many pitchers will be their go-to pitch,” Catalano says. “As coaches, you must be persistent in teaching this pitch and - most importantly - heap endless praise on your pitcher whenever you can.”

Check out Joe's tutorials other tutorails on: a player's first movement pitch, the dropball, and the curveball.

From GameChanger and Tom Glave.

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