Danielle Lawrie’s 3 Pitches Every Young Softball Player Should Learn
Danielle Lawrie happened to be in the office the other day, so we took the opportunity to talk one of her favorite subjects: pitching.
Specifically, we wanted to know what advice she had for young players learning the craft. Lawrie, a two-time national college player of the year at Washington, didn’t disappoint. She shared her thoughts on a range of topics, including (over)training, the importance of having a good changeup, and the pitches every young pitcher should learn. Read our full conversation below.
Q: Young pitchers often feel they need to have three, four, five different pitches in their repertoire. What do you think? How many different pitches do you need to have entering high school?
A: First of all, before you worry about how many pitches you’re throwing, focus on your fastball. That’s where it all starts. If you can’t hit quality spots with your fastball, you shouldn’t be throwing more pitches. My advice to young pitchers would be to work on consistently hitting the four quadrants of the strike zone with their fastball — low-in, high-in, high-out, low-out — before adding anything else.
Q: Okay, let’s say the player already has good control of her fastball. What’s next?
A: Once you can consistently hit your spots with the fastball, I’d add a changeup.
Q: Why the changeup and not something else?
A: The changeup is vital to keeping hitters off-balance. You don’t see a lot of pitchers that are successful, especially at the higher levels, that don’t have good changeups.
Q: What should the speed differential be between your fastball and changeup?
A: Most of my pitches ranged between 65-68 miles per hour, then my changeup was about 56-58 mph at most. So I was about 7-9 mph difference. I’d say the average, though, is about 10-12 mph. The spin on your changeup is what makes it so effective. If you can really spin it, it looks like it’s coming a lot harder than it is.
Q: How did you grip your changeup?
A: I threw a circle change and I threw it on the horseshoe. I would always try to find a visual point. If I were using this Baden ball, for example, I’d try to make a circle around the same point. So every single time I went to grip the ball, I’d be getting that circle around the ‘n’ in Baden.
Q: Is that the grip you’d recommend for younger pitchers?
A: Not necessarily. I teach kids to start out with their three middle fingers spread evenly across the top of the ball, with the thumb and pinky applying pressure on the sides. I teach kids to focus on squeezing with the pinky and thumb, so they could literally throw it by taking their middle three fingers off the ball if they wanted. I’ve found that helps them better understand the feeling of the ball on their fingertips and the seams at the release point.
Q: After the fastball and changeup, what’s the next pitch you should learn?
A: If someone has those two pitches, I would say the next best one to add would probably be a curveball. I get nervous about young pitchers throwing screwballs or rise balls, just because of the stress those pitches can put on a young arm.
Q: What was in your pitching arsenal in high school?
A: Mostly fastball and changeup. I could just throw really hard, that was my main thing. So I came into college throwing a fastball and a changeup, and somewhat of a curve. But I’ll go back to the University of Washington and watch old film of my freshman year and it’s horrific. The growth once I got into college was huge.
Q: So you learned your “junk” pitches post-high school?
A: Yeah, because I had some really good coaches. Growing up, I didn’t have a dedicated pitching coach. I had coaching, but it wasn’t anything like the caliber of what I got in college. Plus, you grow into your body more in college. You’re working out harder. You’re trying to eat better. So your overall fitness is better.
Q: What was your favorite pitch to throw?
A: The changeup. I loved throwing that changeup. But I learned a backdoor curve my junior year — the year we won the national title (2009) — and that was probably my saving grace because everybody knew I had a pretty good changeup and the backdoor curve was a pitch they hadn’t seen from me until that year.
Q: What’s your opinion about how much a young pitcher should be throwing?
A: I see too many 12- and 13-year-old girls with sore arms. And it’s because they’re throwing too much. They’re throwing every game — four or five games in a weekend. It’s ridiculous. I would rather see kids train their bodies for fitness rather than over use their arms trying to learn new pitches or pitch more innings. If you’re not fit and strong, and if you don’t understand your body, you’re not going to get the full potential out of your pitching anyway.
Q: What about private lessons?
A: That’s fine, but again, don’t overdo it. If you see a pitching coach, I’d say 60 minutes per week, tops. Then 25 or 35 minutes pitching on your own, maybe once or twice a week. It all depends, of course, on how many games you’re playing. If you’re playing five or six games in a weekend, I don’t think you need to be throwing all that much during the week.
Q: Last, what’s your best advice for your pitchers looking to follow in your footsteps?
A: Don’t neglect your fitness. Don’t wait to get fit until you get to college because it only gets harder there. The better shape you are in, and the more you understand your body, the better you’ll be as a pitcher and player.
Danielle and her family are now back and living in the Seattle area, so we’ll have a lot more opportunity to talk with her in the coming months. If you have topics you’d like covered or questions you’d like asked, let us know in the comments. You can also follow Danielle on Twitter (@DanielleLawrie5).by