Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How Henry Knight learned to throw with both hands

Henry Knight - Ambidextrous Pitcher

Switch pitcher Henry Knight - Columbia City Reds, Seattle

Switch pitcher Henry Knight was a starter on varsity for four years in high school. He threw six different pitches, for strikes with both arms, and posted a league best
12:1 Strikeout-to-Walk ratio.

Coaches and umpires couldn't tell if he was a natural righty or lefty.

This post is about Henry's experience learning to throw with both arms since he was 9 years-old.

Reason for Switch Pitching: Just for fun

How he got started:

A natural righty, Henry Knight started throwing left-handed when he turned 9-years-old. As a Seattle Mariners fan, he was inspired by LHP Jamie Moyer, who kept batters off-balance by changing speed and location. He threw a slow "Bugs Bunny changeup" that made the best hitters look silly. Moyer was  fun to watch.

Henry thought that it would be fun to face batters as a left-handed pitcher – like Moyer, so he asked for a lefty baseball glove for his birthday and that's when it all started.

Note: Most ambidextrous throwers start when they are three to five years old, not by choice, but are  encouraged to throw with both arms by their dad. Some natural left-handers start throwing right handed so they can play shortstop or catcher. A few players start throwing with their non-dominant arm after an injury to their natural throwing arm. Billy Wagner, a natural righty, broke his arm twice when young, then started throwing left-handed.

Knight pitching lefty
Making practice fun

Initially, Henry practiced throwing balls left-handed into a large bucket at home – trying to hit the bucket in 8 out of 10 throws. He also made a game of knocking down water bottles lined up by a fence. The  target practice made a game of learning to throw lefty and helped Henry to develop accurate throws.

Switch hitting made ambidextrous throwing easier to learn

He was already a natural switch hitter, since 5-years-old, so throwing from both sides was not that difficult to learn. Henry started throwing left-handed two or three times a week in the off-season. This allowed him to rest his dominant right arm for several months, which is recommended by physical therapists.

Pitching Lessons

Once Henry could throw well with both hands, he thought that it was time to take lessons, so he signed up for a pitching clinic at Bellevue College.

Coach Mark Yoshino, a former lefty pitcher, taught Henry proper throwing mechanics, pitching grips, throwing drills, plus how to change speeds and location. Several college players worked with the pitchers on throwing drills, including how to throw long toss.

Henry participated in the clinic as a left-handed pitcher and the coaches said that he looked like a  natural lefty. The pitching clinic motivated Henry to work hard on throwing with both hands.

Proper Warmup is Very Important!

Pitchers learned dynamic warmups and arm exercises to get ready to throw. Coaches stressed the importance of proper warmup before throwing a baseball. Warmup to throw – not throw to warmup.

Knight pitching right-handed

Practice, Practice, Practice

After six months of regular practice, Henry became proficient at pitching with both arms (70% strikes). On flat-ground, he practiced throwing his four-seam fastball, 2-seamer, and change-up with the same arm speed.

He also threw long-toss twice a week – using all three grips.

Advanced Pitching Lessons

In the offseason, Henry was ready to learn how to throw a breaking ball. His dad wanted him to learn a safe way to throw a curveball, so he would not strain his arm like other kids in the league. After researching options, he decided to take a class from Pete Wilkinson - a local pitching expert. Pete taught Henry how to safely throw a curveball and locate a changeup.

More importantly, Henry learned how to make adjustments on the mound, so that he could be his own pitching coach.

Throwing a Breaking Ball

Although Henry learned to throw a curveball when he was 13, he didn't start using the curve in games until his junior year in high school. A college coach encouraged Henry to work on developing his fastball & changeup from both sides, and wait until high school to throw the curveball.  Tyler Davis, an All-American college pitcher, said it would be better to focus on throwing hard, and work on developing a changeup using the same arm speed.

Throwing Hard Daily

In the offseason, Henry focused on throwing hard every day and using the same arm speed with different pitching grips. Playing "burn out" was one of his favorite activities.

Controlling the Glove Side

One important lesson was how to control the glove-side in order to make accurate throws. Many young players yank the glove sideways or way behind their back, causing the shoulder to rotate early which can lead to inconsistent throws or wild pitches. By controlling the glove arm, a pitcher can really improve their pitch location.

Be Your Own Pitching Coach  

   Throw strikes!  Just play catch!  Relax! 

In Little League, I often hear parents and fans yelling instructions to the struggling pitcher. This sideline coaching is distracting and doesn't help the pitcher to throw strikes. 

A better strategy is to learn to be your own pitching coach. Learning how to make simple adjustments on the mound helps a pitcher to consistently throw strikes. 

By using self coaching techniques, Henry was able to throw 75% strikes and consistently locate pitches in the strike zone.

Two Pitchers in One

I would suggest to develop two slightly different pitching styles from each side. Henry would try to emulate Jamie Moyer from the left side, and Greg Maddox from the right. His overall strategy was to throw first-pitch-strikes and put the ball in play (weak contact) to keep the count down. Find out for yourself what pitching style and arm slot works best. 

Throwing BP

During the regular season, Henry helps to throw batting practice (BP) from both sides. This experience gives him confidence facing some good right- and left-handed hitters.

Pitching in Games

First Start as a Switch Pitcher

Henry got his first start as a lefty pitcher, in Pony League, when he was 10-years-old and retired the first three batters. The next inning, he switched gloves to throw right-handed and did not give up any runs. Players where yelling "Watch the new pitcher!" when Henry was warming up in the second inning. 

Gloves and Pitching Strategy

Six-finger ambidextrous glove
Until recently, Henry used two separate gloves for pitching left- and right-handed. The first inning of a game he would use his left hand to pitch, then the following inning he would switch to throw right-handed. The league only allowed 10 year-old players to throw up to two innings per game (no pitch count rule).

If he struggled throwing left-handed, then his coach would call time and bring the other glove to the mound so that Henry could pitch right-handed. Being his own reliever was a great way to get out of a jam and build confidence.

During his second season of pitching left-handed, he worked on hitting the corners and started striking out more batters. The low inside change-up was very effective against right-handed batters. His approach is to locate the ball low in the strikezone, change speeds, and use movement to keep hitters off-balance.

Pitching in High School

Henry Knight made the varsity baseball team as a freshman and pitches against the best players in the state. As a sophomore he only gave up one earned run throwing left-handed and posted 22 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched.

As a relief pitcher on varsity, he tallied a 2-0 record.

In the off-season, Henry worked out regularly with high-velocity pitchers at Driveline Baseball in Puyallup. Kyle Boddy worked with Henry to develop a custom throwing and arm care routine for an ambidextrous pitcher. The program included a long warmup routine, workouts with weighted implements, long toss,  focused bullpens, video analysis and post throwing arm care. Henry also threw hard daily, on flat ground, alternating days throwing right- and left-handed. This throwing program kept him in shape and healthy throughout the season.

Over four years on varsity, Henry posted a 12:1 Strikeout-to-Walk Ratio
Now that's having command of his pitches.

Pitching Highlight

In the summer league, he threw 11 innings in a game as a switch pitcher, allowing only one earned run while throwing 94 strikes.

Knight threw nine scoreless innings with 87% first pitch strikes.


Switch Pitcher
In baseball, a switch-pitcher is an ambidextrous pitcher who is able to pitch with both the right and left hand from the pitcher's mound. (Wikipedia)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pat Venditte News 2016

Venditte - Blue Jays

Ambidextrous Pat Venditte pitches in the MLB!

  • Patrick Michael Venditte
  • Pronunciation: ven-det-ee
  • Born: 6/30/1985 in Omaha, NE
  • Draft: 2008, New York Yankees, 20th rd. (620th overall)
  • College: Creighton
  • Debut: June 5, 2015

  • Sinker Velocity: 85 mph
  • 5.19 ERA in 8 games (July 2016)

Pat Venditte (PatVenditte) on Twitter

2016 Toronto Blue Jays
Pat Venditte on the 40-man roster
On October 19, 2015, Venditte was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays.

In April 2016, Venditte was called up from the minors to play for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Toronto Blue Jays |

Twins trying to prepare for Pat Venditte – a switch-pitcher
After making 26 appearances with the Oakland A’s last season, posting a 4.40 earned run average, the 30-year-old Creighton product has a 4.50 ERA through his first six outings for the Blue Jays.

Venditte pitching for the Buffalo Bisons - AAA (April 2016)
See Bio & Stats

Blue Jays' Pat Venditte: Optioned to Triple-A Buffalo April 2016

Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte arrives to give Toronto Blue Jays a couple of hands

Blue Jays’ Venditte on switch-pitching: It’s still a work in progress
Sportsnet  MARCH 1, 2016, 8:47 AM
A natural right-hander, Venditte started throwing with his left arm at age three at his father’s behest. It wasn’t until his junior year at Creighton University, however, that he really began seeing results. "It’s still a work in progress," Venditte said.

Ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte debuts for Athletics in 2015 
BOSTON -- Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte made his major league debut Friday night after he was called up by the Oakland Athletics before their game against the Boston Red Sox.

Oakland Athletics call up switch-pitcher Pat Venditte -

2015 Oakland Athletics, CA

Active Roster - Oakland Athletics

Venditte called up to the big leagues on 5 June 2015

to switch pitch for the Oakland Athletics

Switch-pitcher Venditte makes his MLB debut - YouTube

Pat Venditte, Jr. - A professional Switch PItcher formerly with the New York Yankees organization - signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics (Nov 19, 2014)

2015 Nashville Sounds, Nashville, TN
Class AAA, Affiliation: Oakland Athletics

2015 Stats - Nashville Sounds AAA

1.55 ERA, 29 IP, 28K, 12BB,  1.00 WHIP (as of 24 May 2015)

News Articles

Switch pitcher Pat Venditte is baseball's most fascinating player 

Ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte wants to show the Blue Jays he has Major League arms
Ted Berg, USA Today | February 23, 2016
And though Venditte will always have a spot in Major League history as the game’s first full-time switch-pitcher (longtime MLB righty Greg Harris threw lefty against two batters in a game in 1995), he is no longer unique in the professional ranks: The Cleveland Indians used a 12th round pick in the 2015 draft to select Ryan Perez, who boasts low-90s heat from both arms.
Venditte spoke to Perez about their craft while the latter was in high school, and works with another ambidextrous Blue Jays pitcher — Creighton walk-on Alex Trautner — while he’s training in Nebraska in the offseason.
Read more

From the archive...

Two Pitchers in One
by John Strubel, posted in May 2009

“To be successful Pat has to do two things,” said Pat Sr. “Locate his pitches and, two: throw the kind of pitch that will disrupt the batter.”
Agitating the batter shouldn’t be a problem since Venditte throws right-handed … and left-handed. He is ambidextrous, the only pitcher in professional baseball to throw with both arms. He throws two different pitches with his right arm, two more with his left with a sidearm delivery; now, try hitting that.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Pitch Counts in High School

Most states have rules on the total number of innings that a high school pitcher can throw in one week. In Kansas, a kid is allowed to throw 12 innings during a 48-hour span.

A good high school pitcher might average 15 pitches per inning.

12 innings x 15 pitches/inning = 180 pitches

That's a lot of pitches in a short time - especially for a young arm. But is the inning limit the best formula to protect a young pitcher's arm?

Extended Innings ...

The big problem that I see is with the long innings, where a kid throws 20+ pitches. 
The pitcher starts loosing control, looses velocity, rolls their eyes, takes long walks around the mound and shows general signs of fatigue. And the 30 pitch innings are really tough on the arm. Most kids don't have the strength and conditioning to handle this type of load. 

Plus, there is the mental fatigue of long stints on the mound. It's hard to face a big hitter twice in one inning - with the bases loaded - after the entire team batted around. 

I have seen HS kids throw 75+ pitches in only 3 innings. Not good.

Baseball tournaments are a special problem where players throw extra innings and don't get enough rest between outings.

Some pitchers recover faster than others, especially if the follow a good warmup and post throwing routine (like used at Driveline Baseball).

Pitcher and Catcher ...

I have seen HS pitchers who threw several innings, then they switched positions with the catcher in the same game. Yikes! Give the kid a rest.

Some catchers also pitch in relief for the team. This is a lot of throwing – without rest and recovery – in between pitching, so maybe they should just stick to one position.

Quick Estimate ...
Around 100 pitches would be plenty for most HS pitchers in a 7-inning game. 
7 innings * 15 pitches/inning = 105 pitches

How about using a closer for the last inning of the game?

A starter who goes 6 innings, would throw about 90 pitches.
6 innings * 15 pitches/inning = 90 pitches

Each pitcher is unique, so it's hard to set a specific limit on pitch counts. Guidelines could be helpful, since some coaches only focus on winning and not the health of players.

I think it's important to track the number of pitches thrown each inning. Avoid the 25+ pitch innings that can cause arm strain.

Rotate Pitchers

Coaches tend to rely on a handful of pitchers during the season. But, there are other guys on the team who are would love to pitch a few innings. Why not give them a chance.

JULY 13, 2016
Pitch counts replacing innings thrown as new standard for high school baseball