Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Switch Pitching for Fun

Henry Knight pitching for Franklin High School (Photo: Jerry Johnson)

This is the story behind ambidextrous pitcher Henry Knight from Seattle.

Practice makes perfect

Throwing with both arms takes a lot of regular practice to develop good mechanics and strong accurate throws. Excellent instruction and hard work is very important. Practicing the little things, like pickoff throws, can make a big difference in games.

Throwing Lefty and Righty at the Park

It was overcast and 50 degrees the other day, when Henry went down to the local baseball field to practice throwing with both arms -- like he often does on the weekend. There was a stocky redhead player on the infield practicing catching with a coach - both were in catcher's gear. 

We asked the coach if we could share the infield and he said "Sure, no problem. They need to get ready for high school tryouts." 

Henry started throwing left-handed to warmup, then took the mound to work on pickoff throws to first base. After about twenty pickoffs, he walked to the dugout to switch gloves -- so he could warmup right-handed. 

When the coach heard Henry zinging balls to first base, he looked around in amazement -- watching Henry throw right-handed. 

The coach said: 

"Wait a minute, I just saw him doing pickoffs lefty, and now he is throwing righty. How long has he been doing that?

"He started throwing lefty when he was nine years old." -  I responded.  "He has been switch hitting since he was five, so didn't take long for him to learn how to throw with both arms." 

Then the coach started talking to the freshman catcher about Pat Venditte and the rules about switch pitching in games. The coach spoke like a pro, and it turned out that he was a former catcher in the minor leagues.

Here is a summary about how Henry got started as a switch pitcher in Little League -- up to his success on the mound in high school. 

Henry Knight

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Current Teams:
Columbia City Reds, Seattle
Franklin High School, Seattle (2015)

Positions: RHP/LHP, SS, 2B, CF, C
Bats: Switch hitter
Throws: Switch pitcher
Gloves: Akadema ambidextrous six-finger glove for switch pitching.
Right- and Left-handed infield gloves. Right-handed catchers mitt.

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. He asked for a lefty baseball glove for his birthday and that's when it all started.

Making practice fun
Initially, he practiced throwing left-handed into a bucket at home, then he worked on knocking down water bottles lined up on a fence. The target practice made a game of learning to throw lefty and helped Henry to develop accurate throws.

Henry would arrive early before team practice and throw left-handed to warm up. Then he would switch gloves to throw right-handed with late arriving players. Within a month he was throwing more accurately than a natural lefty on the team.

Switch hitting made switch pitching easier to learn

He was already a good switch hitter, since 5-years-old, so throwing from both sides was not that difficult to learn. Henry started throwing left-handed twice a week in the off-season. This allowed him to rest his right arm for several months following tournament play.

During the regular season, he helps to throw batting practice from both sides. This experience gives him confidence facing some good right- and left-handed hitters. He got his first start as a lefty pitcher when he was 10-years-old by retiring the first three batters.

Henry was pitching and catching in Little League games since age 7, so he has more experience throwing from the right side. When he was 10-years-old, he used the 5 mph speed differential between arms to his advantage – making power hitters swing early and look silly. Now, he throws with about the same velocity both sides, but has more movement throwing left-handed.

Pitching in Games

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 Henry could pitch right-handed. Being his own reliever was a great way to get out of a jam and build confidence. Actually, his control was good - he rarely walked batters, but kids were hitting the pitches thrown over the heart of the plate.

During his second season of pitching left-handed, he worked on hitting the corners and started striking out more hitters. The inside change-up was very effective against right-handed batters. The typical pattern of outs in an inning: strikes out one batter, fields a grounder for an out, ground ball to the shortstop for an out.

Season Recaps

2009 Stats
As a starting pitcher, Henry Knight led his team in strike-outs (32 Ks in 33 innings) and recorded the fewest walks (5 BB) while alternating pitching left- and right-handed during 15 games in 2009.

2010 Season

As a 12-year-old, Henry started his third season of switch pitching. He took a pitching clinic during spring training and started working on a longer stride and faster delivery. He keeps the ball low in the zone and locates a 4-seam fastball, change-up and 2-seam fastball with movement. Now he is practicing with a new six-finger ambidextrous glove from Akadema (Prosoft Series: ABX-00: Ambidextrous,12" Trap Design).

Henry alternated as the starting catcher/shortstop, so he mainly pitched in relief with runners on base. He was able to strikeout the hitter or get them to ground out to get the team out of a jam.  He had excellent control on the mound - walking only two batters during the regular season. Henry relies on his fielders to get ground ball outs - resulting in a 4-pitch inning then a 5-pitch inning in tournament play.

As a switch hitter Henry batted .500 including 8 doubles, while hitting second in the order. Struck out only once in the regular season.

2011 Season

As a 13-year-old, Henry played in on a 13U Koufax team. He was the starting shortstop and served as a backup catcher. He also played a few innings in center field - giving other players to a chance to get experience at shortstop.

In preseason games, the team was testing out several pitchers, so Henry only got in one inning of pitching per game. He has the potential to be a solid relief pitcher - getting the team out of a jam with runners in scoring position.

He alternates days throwing left- and right-handed during pitching practice, since it's easier to focus on one side at a time. He mainly uses a four-seam fastball right-handed and a two-seamer left handed. Mixes in a nice change-up to keep hitters guessing. His left-handed throws have more movement than his right-handed throws. Also working on developing a good curve ball from both sides.

Henry continues to work on switch hitting.  During winter training, he got in a lot of quality swings at the UW Hitting School, and the new K Center in Seattle. His goal was to average over .400 and hit 10 doubles in 2011.

In the first month of the season, he was averaging .444 with two doubles and on base percentage around .600. In the final two months, he averaged .550 with five doubles, two triples and on base percentage around .700.  Henry struck out only once in the 22 game Koufax season.

In the final tournament, Henry hit .727, was on base 13 of 15 times, and scored 11 runs. The team took a second place finish after playing five games - all in one rainy day - with only 9 players.

2011 Fall Ball
Henry played fall baseball at PAC West LL near SeaTac Airport. Most of the players on the team were from the West Seattle Pony League All-Stars. Although the team did not practice at all, they managed to hit well and finished with a 13-1 record. Henry mainly focused on pitching left-handed, and got experience playing every position during the fall. Hitters started out with a 1-1 count to move the game along. Pitchers only threw one or two innings per game to avoid arm strain.

2012 Season

Franklin Quakers
As a 14-year-old, Henry made the varsity team at Franklin High School - landing a starting role at second base. He still works on switch hitting, although he usually bats left-handed in games. One week, he went 4 for 5 batting right-handed vs left-handed pitchers. He loves facing lefties, but there are only a few left-handers in the league. As a freshman, his on base percentage was over .400

The manager has called on Henry to do some relief pitching, right- or left-handed, depending on the situation. If he is playing infield, and the pitcher is struggling to get outs, then Henry takes the mound right-handed. If he starts a new inning and has time to warm-up, then he might throw left-handed.

The key to his pitching success is to throw a first pitch strike - which he does 70% of the time. On the mound, he works on changing speed and location to keep hitters off balance. 

Columbia City Reds (22-9)

Henry's summer team, the Columbia City Reds, competed in the Koufax State Tournament in July, then advanced to play in the Regional Tournament.

The Reds swept the Dow Memorial Day Tournament, in Redmond (home of Microsoft), where Henry  pitched five innings to close out the championship game - winning 3-2 in ten innings. He averaged nine pitches per inning, thanks to very solid defense by the Reds.

2013 Season

Franklin Quakers
As a 15-year-old, Henry was a starter on varsity at Franklin High School - serving as a pitcher, catcher, and infielder. As a switch pitcher, he tallied a 2-0 record, while striking out 22 batters in 22 innings. A natural righty, he posted a 0.78 ERA pitching left-handed.

Columbia City Reds (14-15)

The Columbia City Reds 15U played the in the Olympic Division of the Puget Sound Baseball League. 

The team was off to a good start in May, with the same core group from last year playing the key positions. Henry was the starting shortstop and switch pitcher for the Reds. He also caught three games.

In the first weekend of June, Henry threw two innings lefty on Saturday, and then threw two innings righty as the closer on Sunday. There were no walks issued and no earned runs. In the second game, he threw 13 strikes and 1 ball pitching righty -- averaging 7 pitches per inning

By July, Henry posted 21 strikeouts and only 5 walks in 39 innings of switch pitching. He chalked up a 2-1 record with a 1.26 ERA.

Knight throws 94 strikes in an 11-inning gem >>

2013 Fall Ball
Henry played fall baseball with the K Center team – comprised of players from the Baden Baseball Club. He worked on hitting with coach Kevin Miller (Bellevue College) and switch pitching with Kelton Jacobson (former minor league pitcher). His goal was to develop a nasty curveball – both left- and right-handed.


Benefits of Switch Pitching

- Gives pitcher the advantage
- Safely pitch more innings
- Improve balance
- Gives the arm a rest
- It's fun

Henry Knight, Switch Pitcher - Franklin High ...


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