Monday, July 1, 2013

Off-season Training for a Switch Pitcher

People often ask:
How does a switch pitcher train?

Each pitcher is unique, but most ambidextrous pitchers train extra in the off-season. Many do long toss, conditioning, strength training and regular bullpen sessions starting in the fall – after they take several weeks off from playing baseball. Pitchers also work on developing a second or third pitch, like a change-up or breaking ball.

Here is an example of training done by a successful high school switch pitcher.

In the off-season, ambidextrous pitcher Henry Knight takes time off from pitching to rest his arms. To stay active and develop his skills, he spends time hitting and fielding. He is primarily a shortstop, so it is important to practice footwork, fielding short hops and charging the ball.

Henry's training is fairly comprehensive and he practices six days a week. Here is a overview of his baseball training program.

Henry does conditioning all year round. He learned a series of conditioning exercises from college coaches that he integrated into his routine. A sports physical therapist gave him a series of band exercises to do before throwing a baseball. He also does conditioning exercises recommended for baseball players by Eric Cressey.

In the summer, Henry started the MaxVelo program with Kyle Boddy at Driveline Baseball. The training program helped him to build strength, improve mechanics, and maintain arm health, while increasing velocity. Now, he trains in the new Puyallup facility (one hour from Seattle) on the weekend and in addition to training daily on his own. It's a grind, but pitchers have shown an average gain of 7 mph over 12 weeks using the MaxVelo program.

On the weekends, Henry integrates conditioning with long toss and fielding practice.

Weighted Ball Throwing Program

Throwing Daily:
Henry alternates days throwing right- and left-handed. This makes it easy to focus on mechanics and give the other arm time to rest. The objective is to throw hard – on target.

Long Toss:
Twice a week, he does long toss to workout his throwing arms. He mixes in four-seam, two-seam and change-ups into the long toss throwing routine. Usually, he throws from one side only during a long toss session. In addition, Henry integrates fielding grounders and fly balls during the outdoor session. 

Henry goes down to the local turf football field to do glove work and footwork drills. He works on fielding grounders and tracking fungo hits for twenty to thirty minutes. The goal is to do some fun conditioning that applies to baseball. He practices fielding skills that he learned from college infield coaches at Bellevue College, Seattle U, the Washington Baseball School, and Stubby's Infield Camps.


In the off-season, he does a lot of tee work – swinging from both sides of the plate. Henry works on hitting golfball-size wiffle balls using a narrow training bat or a standard wood bat. Small wifle balls have a lot of movement, so the hitting practice helps with tracking off-speed pitches and staying back to hit inside the ball. The small wiffle balls can be used safely indoors, during cold or wet weather.

It takes a lot of reps to become a successful bunter, so Henry practices bunting twice a week on dirt, turf or grass fields. Typically, he puts down 50 - 100 bunts along the first or third base side. He uses a college style of bunting – getting into a low athletic stance and holding the bat level at the top of the strike zone with a preset angle. 

He works on soft bunts near the line, push bunts toward second base, and hard choppers that are difficult to field. The aim is to make contact, get the ball down early, and keep the ball in fair territory.

Henry bunts well right and left-handed – but he prefers to bunt lefty in games since he can get a quicker jump out of the box.

Baseball Classes:
The University of Washington (UW) offers excellent baseball classes in the off-season. Each class, consisting of six to twelve players, lasts up to six weeks.

Henry participates in small group classes include fielding, hitting and pitching. The UW Husky assistant coaches direct the instruction while college players help individuals with techniques and making adjustments.

For pitching, he works with UW assistant pitching coach Justin Gabriel – focusing on good mechanics and locating pitches low in the strikezone. Justin was a successful left-handed pitcher, who played in the college world series, and later spent time pitching in the minor leagues. Justin has worked with Henry for two years and said that he is a legit ambidextrous pitcher. Fortunately, the UW coaches are very supportive of Henry throwing with both arms. During pitching classes, Henry primarily throws left-handed to prepare him for the baseball season.

For fielding, Henry does one-on-one instruction with Nate Santiago at the K Center in Seattle. In the fall he worked out in the Dempsey with UW coaches Kelly Gau and Tanner Swanson - former college infielders at Central Washington University. The emphasis is on footwork, glove work and making good throws.

The UW Hitting class includes a lot of tee work, and soft toss with a focus on staying inside the ball and hitting line drives. Henry swings a 32" maple bat, and usually hits from only one side during the one-hour hitting session.

Over the past few years, Henry has been instructed by hitting coaches Dave Nakama, Jordon Twohig, Evan Wells, and Tanner Swanson at the University of Washington.

Recently, he worked with Kevin Miller – a hitting coach at Bellevue College – who trains high school players at the K Center in Seattle. One of his players, Reese McGuire, was recently selected in the first round of the MLB draft.

Camps and Clinics:
In the off-season, Henry participated in special training sessions for pitching and fielding.

Participated in a 3-day Velocity Training Clinic featuring Ken Knutson, head pitching coach at Arizona State University. Knutson taught Henry the flex step, so that he could have a quick delivery out of the stretch. He also learned a very fast pickoff move as a left-handed pitcher.

At the Seattle University prospect camp, he learned dynamic warmup and conditioning routines from Elliott Cribby, the new SU pitching coach. Cribby was a relief pitcher at the UW and teammate of Tim Lincecum.

Learned Crossover Symmetry exercises and arm care routines at the UW Elite Pitching Camp run by Jason Kelly. Worked on his pickoff moves – right- and left-handed.

Pete Wilkinson, a pitching expert, gave Henry tips on how to get more momentum throwing left-handed. This was the fourth camp Henry attended under Wilkinson, and he always picks up something new to work on in the off-season. The Hershiser drill seems to be helping him lead with the hip. Watch a video of pitching drills

Henry participated a Winter Infield Camp at the K Center with Bryan Barnes, the infield coach at Bellevue College. He also did some fielding lessons with Nate Santiago, a coach at Pierce College. Now, Henry is working on footwork to get a good angle on ground balls.

Previously, he did several Stubby infield camps under Bill Stubbs and Dave Smart. He also participated in small-group training with college coaches and infielders at the University of Washington.

Henry Knight warming up right-handed

Team Practice:

In September and October, Henry does fall ball with the K Center team in south Seattle. Kevin Miller, a coach at Bellevue College, works with Henry on hitting. Kelton Jacobson, a former pro pitcher and coach for Baden Baseball,  instructs him on pitching. The team practices at a local turf field and plays double-headers on the weekends.

In November, the Columbia City Reds start indoor practice at the K Center located in south Seattle. The large indoor facility has seven cages plus a large turf space for warmup, conditioning and fielding drills.

The Reds team does small group training for hitting and pitching. Henry works with coach Ron Queen on pitching mechanics and developing four pitches – a fastball, change-up, curveball and sinker - both left- and right-handed. During training, he is often paired up with a natural left-handed pitcher.

Prehab: Strengthening the rotator cuff
Prehab is a proactive approach to avoiding pain and injury.

Henry learned shoulder, hip and core exercises from a sports physical therapist. He is doing prehab to prevent injury when playing sports. There is a standard warmup routine, using resistance bands and medicine balls, that he does before picking up a baseball. 

Crossover Symmetry Exercises:
New this year – Henry warms up using the Crossover Symmetry bands - a strengthening routine that he learned at the UW pitching class. The goal is to improve rotator cuff and scapular strength during 5 minute warmup sessions prior to throwing a baseball. Fast twitch muscle fibers in both arms are activated evenly which is ideal for building balanced arm strength of a switch pitcher.

Eric Cressey provides many helpful articles, exercises and workouts for baseball pitchers. One thing Henry learned was that running long distances can decrease a pitcher's velocity, but doing short sprints can help. If the team does a long run, then he breaks it up into a set of short sprints.

Switch Pitcher Henry Knight throws 11 solid innings  >>

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