Coaches always look for any edge to win a game, and one way to do that is to control the inside part of home plate. Whoever controls the inside part of the plate wins the game, not only for the pitcher, but also for the hitter, and this philosophy makes better hitters.
Good pitchers need to come inside to keep hitters from extending too much and hitting the outside pitch. They can also jam hitters in key situations, getting weak ground outs or pop flies. Pitchers can also take advantage by intimidating hitters, making their curve balls more effective. You can eliminate all of these advantages, plus teach hitters to protect themselves from an inside pitch.
Protection is the first concern. As the pitch is delivered, the batter shifts his weight back and draws his hands back. If it is a pitch he can hit, he is ready to swing. If the pitch is going to hit him, he is halfway to protecting himself.
Teach the hitter to turn his back to the ball. It is a natural move because the hitter should be following the ball into the plate anyway. This method protects the face since the back of the helmet extends down to protect the neck, so a high and tight fastball will hit the hitter in the helmet. Anything lower than the head will strike an area that is generally well protected by muscle.
In addition, by lowering the bat and drawing it back, the hitter cannot accidentally hit the ball foul for a strike, or worse, fair — for an easy out.
Curve balls become easier to hit because batters hang in longer, realizing that the curve is a slower pitch and will not hurt them if they are hit. The batter hangs in longer, giving himself a better chance of hitting it.
The first week of practice when the varsity and junior varsity work together may facilitate everyone understanding this procedure. Using Incredi-Balls, tennis balls or plastic wiffle balls, pitches are thrown inside and the batter reacts. Pitches are also thrown for strikes to make sure batters are not thinking about getting hit by a pitch and are actually getting ready to hit the ball.
The action needed to turn away from an inside pitch is a natural one — the same motion batters use to cock back when a pitch is delivered. In other words, they are ready to hit, and being ready is important for power hitters who have the confidence to wait and hit the inside pitch over the fence.
While using this routine sounds dangerous, no injuries have occurred in four years. In our 1996 season, batters were hit 41 times and there were no injuries. Actually, it is safer because the longer a hitter sees the pitch, the better his chance of hitting it.
Hitters no longer feel they have to bail out from an inside pitch, especially a curve ball. If the curve ball does not break, hitters get hit in a well-protected part of the body by a soft pitch and get a free base. By staying in, the hitter can take away the inside pitch and intimidate the pitcher.
Our players did just that in the playoffs a couple of years ago. The team was down by a couple of runs, but the other team’s pitcher was not able to consistently throw inside strikes and began hitting batters. The pitcher stopped throwing inside because all he was doing was putting runners on base and giving him something else to worry about. In other words, he only had half a plate to work with. He began to miss with his pitches. Those he did get over the plate were right down the middle, and our hitters began to tee off and we won the game.
Teaching batters to protect themselves frustrates a pitcher, because there is no way he can control the inside part of the plate. Therefore, batters either get a free base or a pitch to drive. Batters hit with confidence because they know they cannot be hurt by a pitch. Players can take advantage of these little edges, which become the most versatile screen for you and your team!
Chip Cohen has been the head freshman baseball coach at El Camino (CA) High School since 2002. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach at Vanden High School in California for 11 seasons. During that time Vanden won four Sac Joaquin Section championships, and in 1995 they were the Division III State Champions.Cohen earned his teaching credentials at San Jose State and earned a BA from San Diego State. He teaches English at El Camino.