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Mastering the stiff-wrist changeup

This is an excerpt from Softball Skills & Drills - 2nd Edition by Judi Garman & Michelle Gromacki.

The easiest release to use for the changeup is usually the stiff wrist, but the choice should depend on which release is easier and more comfortable for the pitcher. A problem with the stiff-wrist release is a tendency to stop the hand completely with no follow-through or to slow the arm way down at the back of the motion and give the pitch away. Also, it can be difficult to avoid snapping the wrist because doing so is so important for all other pitches. This technique is just the opposite of what the pitcher has worked so hard to develop. Now she palms the ball, locks the wrist, and pushes the ball.

  • Grip—The more skin on the ball, the slower the speed. Putting the ball deep in the hand against the palm locks or stiffens the wrist, greatly reducing the speed. Palming the ball with the fingers going with the seams causes any rotation to be a two-seam rotation. When gripping across the seams, pitchers tend to snap the ball and pull on the seams, thus increasing the speed. Going with the seams helps break this habit. Placing the thumb on a seam helps with control.

The pitcher can try using one, two, or four knuckles on the ball; or she can use the fingertips on the ball. When using the fingertips on the ball, the fingers should be bent, and the nails should be digging into the seams or just in front of the seams (see figure 11.18a). If the knuckle grip is being used, the pitcher should grip the ball firmly with the thumb and little finger while placing the first bend (flat fingernail portion) against the ball's surface (see figure 11.18b). The grip must be secure enough that the pitcher can use her regular fastball motion without fear of losing her grip on the ball. The size of a pitcher's hands will eliminate the use of some grips. One problem with the knuckleball is that it is very easy for the hitters and opposing coaches to pick up because the pitcher cannot easily hide the knuckles coming off the ball. For this reason, the knuckleball is less popular at higher levels of play.

  • Spin—The ball may or may not spin. The lack of speed, not ball movement, is what makes the pitch effective, so spin is not a concern.
  • Mechanics—Differences in mechanics between the changeup and other pitches should be few and never visible to the batter. The pitcher locks or stiffens her wrist at the release point by spreading her fingers as wide as possible and pushing the ball with her palm. She does not use the fingers to push the ball because this would result in speed. Normal hand speed must be maintained into the release point. If the hand slows, the pitcher will tip the pitch and lose needed distance. The release is in front of the back hip. The pitcher must focus on staying under the ball and reaching out to hand the ball to the catcher (see figure 11.19). For some pitchers, stopping the wrist at the side by bumping the hip is effective.
  • Follow-through—The pitcher should keep the follow-through low so that the pitch stays down in the strike zone. She turns her hand down at release as if shaking the catcher's hand. She may want to experiment with bumping the hip to stop the arm and limit the follow-through, or she may even try pulling back after releasing the ball.

Learn more about Softball Skills & Drills.

More Excerpts From Softball Skills & Drills 2nd Edition