Better Baseball: The Approach to Hitting with Two Strikes
Let’s face it - the pitcher isn’t up there to feed you pitches to hit. His job is to get you out, one way or another, while your job is to make him fail. Only one of you is going to succeed.
So when the pitcher gets “ahead” of you in the count (which means, of course, that you are “behind” in the count...that you have more strikes on you than balls), the advantage is now his. Why?
Look at it this way. When a pitcher has to throw a strike, the easiest pitch to throw for a strike is a straight fastball. That’s also the easiest pitch for you to hit. He has to throw a strike when he’s behind in the count, because he’s afraid of walking you. So you sort of can guess a fastball is coming when the count is 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1.
But when the count is 0-1, or any count with two strikes, the pitcher can throw something not as easy to hit - a curve ball, change-up, perhaps even a knuckle ball or split-fingered-three-seamed-eefus ball - whatever he thinks will fool you into swinging at a bad pitch, and not get himself into too much trouble if you take it for a ball. But you’ve got to be twice as sharp. You have to focus, especially if you have two strikes on you, when there’s no room for error.
Two Strike Drill
This is the time for you to perform the Two-Strike Drill, a series of adjustments you must make when you cannot guess what pitch is coming.
Your first adjustment is to move up in the batter’s box and closer to the plate. Take a small step - a few inches - closer to the pitcher, and a couple of inches in towards the plate. This allows you to cover the outside part of the strike zone, a favorite place for good pitchers to throw with two strikes. It also lets you keep your weight back on a breaking ball and hit it out in front of the plate before it breaks down or away or in.
Another adjustment is to choke up on the bat about an inch. This will shorten your swing and allow you to swing the bat quicker. This in turn allows you to see the pitch a split-second longer before committing to swinging at it.
Watch the pitch leave the pitcher’s fingers. Even if you cannot pick up the spin of the seams, you will see it longer, recognize its speed sooner, and track it in to the plate better. Exaggerate your head-down position so your eyes truly follow the ball right in.
Finally, think “away.” That means, expect an outside pitch - the hardest to hit - and adjust if it’s inside or down the middle. That adjustment is much easier than expecting an inside pitch and trying to suddenly go for one that’s three inches off the outside edge of the plate. Stay “closed,” with your shoulders turned more towards the catcher than the pitcher, which will allow you to hit that outside pitch while preventing you from lunging at a curveball in the dirt.
Try to hit the ball to the opposite field (right field if you’re a right-handed hitter, left field if you’re a lefty) every time you have two strikes on you. This automatically causes a lot of good things to happen, whether you’re aware of yourself doing them or not. It forces you to stay closed. It forces you to keep your hands back. It forces you to keep your weight back and let the pitch ride in a little deeper into the strike zone, which lets you see it and hit it better.
And if you foul it off, you’re still alive. If the pitcher sees you’re looking away and throws one inside, you’ll still be able to hit it - not with as much power, but sometimes a little bloop over the second baseman’s head looks better in the scorebook than a scorching line drive right into the third baseman’s glove.
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The Two Strike Drill is one that every coach should work on with his team, in every hitting practice. Here’s how it works:
Each kid goes to the plate with two strikes on him. The pitcher can throw whatever he wants. The hitters can be called out looking, if the pitch was a strike, or can go down swinging, and must go out to the field and shag balls until his turn is up again. For those who either get a “hit” (hit the ball in fair territory even if caught), or “walk”, they get to stay up there as long as they can. Once they strike out looking or swinging, they shag balls. It’s very competitive, fun for the players, and your team will improve its batting average - and runs scored - by a surprising amount.