We’re wrapping up the Pitching to Contact (PtC) series with a special game situation where, no matter what kind of pitcher a team has, PtC is the only viable strategy to win the game. I speak specifically of the case where a team is behind going into the bottom of an inning and time is about to expire. Unless playing High School or College ball, most Softball games have a time limit after which no new inning can start. If behind in the bottom of the inning when time is going to expire in a few minutes, PtC (with a little luck) can get the home team out quickly so that the next inning can start and the visiting team then still has a chance to win.
In the previous PtC article, we discussed pitch calling, focusing on pitching to a batter’s weaknesses based on her type and where she lines up in the batter’s box. Where there are weaknesses, though, there are also batter strengths. Our goal is for the batter to put the ball in play with the first pitch and get three quick outs. While we could achieve this by grooving the ball right down the middle of the plate and pray that the batter hits it hard right at our defenders, to give ourselves the best chance of getting outs we want to entice batters to swing at pitches that they like in their strength zones, but that have movement so that the batter (hopefully!) does not hit the ball squarely. I mean, we’re behind anyway, so if the batters do get on base or even score, the result of the game does not change.
Our plan, then, is to throw pitches to the batters’ swing strengths, but throw something off-speed or with movement so that the batter hits a pop fly or a ground ball. Taking the same pitch-calling diagram we derived in the previous article, we are going to pitch to the red zones instead of the green zones as shown. However, we do not really care about the game situation (we want outs and preventing the score of additional runs is a secondary concern), so unless we think the bunt is on and we want to throw a pitch that is easy to bunt, pitch to the batter’s strength.
One final comment: I’m a big believer in catchers calling their own game, but in this one situation, I usually call the pitches. First, I don’t want to confuse my catchers by having them learn a pitch-calling scheme that they will rarely use. Second, if the batters start crushing the ball, I’ll take responsibility for it and if the catcher’s not calling the game, then she won’t get quite as frustrated with the result.