We recently had an excellent training for our team from professional coach Brett Manning. He gave us some excellent tips for how to adjust what you’re doing as a batter, when you already have two strikes, to avoid getting a third strike.
Now, this is an advanced training, and it assumes your batters already have some basic and intermediate batting skills.
First, change your stance in the following three ways:
Step closer to the plate. Most young pitchers are afraid to pitch close to the batter, so this will effectively shrink the strike zone a few inches, while making it easier to hit the ones outside the plate.
Widen your stance. This way your knees are more inside your feet, so if you get fooled by an off-speed pitch, your knees should still be positioned properly to hit with at least some power.
Bring in your hands, maybe just a couple inches closer to the center of your body from how it is in your normal stance, so your bat will get to the ball quicker. It’s called “shortening up” or “shortening your swing”. This gives up some power, and increases your bat control, to make it more likely you’ll make contact.
Second, you have to expand the strike zone that you’re going to swing at, depending on the umpire you have that day. If the umpire has a tight, consistent strike zone, then you don’t need to expand the strike zone very much. In youth sports, much of the time, the umpire has a wider or less consistent strike zone. So you’ll need to expand your strike zone to include everything that the umpire could possibly call a strike, even if it’s way outside the real strike zone.
We just had a game with an umpire who had an incredibly big strike zone. So I told the players to swing at anything they could possibly touch with their bat. If they had a called strike three, and they could have touched the ball with their bat, then it was their responsibility to have made contact. It doesn’t matter if it was technically a ball. It’s what the umpire says it is.
And how do you know how big the umpire’s strike zone is? By watching from the dugout. If he’s calling a strike several inches outside and several inches high or low, then that’s your strike zone today. After two strikes, it’s really important to be aware of this. Plan on making the appropriate adjustments for umpire inconsistency.
Third, aim for right field if you’re a righty, and left field if you’re a lefty. This gives you more time to have the barrel in the zone.
Fourth, look for a fastball, adjust for an off-speed pitch. If you’re doing the opposite, and expecting an off-speed pitch, then a fastball could blow right by you. You won’t have time to adjust. However, if you’re ready for a fastball and then it turns out to be slower, you can slow down your swing a little to adjust.
And fifth, sacrifice some of your power to make sure you’re making contact, and not missing the ball. If you swing for a home run after two strikes, that could be strike three. Here is a good time to choke up on the bat a little bit.
How to Simplify
Now, this is a fabulous training for avoiding strike three. However, it’s going to take kids some time to absorb all of this. This was a very advanced training. So if your kids are new to these concepts, I suggest starting them out with a few simple keys they can remember:
1. Take a step in toward the plate.
2. Widen your stance.
3. Expand the strike zone to the size of the umpire’s, plus an extra few inches.
Once they’ve got the hang of these, you can add the other tips. My observation is that when I can get the kids to make these adjustments after two strikes, it cuts way down on the called strike three in particular—and often, they’ll get a hit! As a matter of fact, one of my players who struggled at the plate began to consistently hit the ball for a base hit after having two strikes and using this strategy.