Rise Ball Hitting Drills
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Tool XXX: Movement Drills, Drill III – Rise Ball Hitting Drills
Most rise balls, at all levels, do not rise! They are simply a high, slightly inward drifting fastball. Many hitters strike out on the poor rise simply because they have yet to achieve the patience to lay off balls above the zone.
With practice identifying spins and recognizing pitches, fastpitch hitters quickly learn to identify the cement mixer spin of the “flat” rise ball, with a dot or circle in the middle of the ball. Combined with high pitch training, the hitter can “crush” most rise balls.
Purpose – The hitter constructs a swing pattern to raise productivity for the pitch that breaks upward.
Attention Focus – External Process focus (click for descriptions of various ways to focus during practice and games) on the pattern of the swing.
Step 1 (Rise Ball Pitch Recognition)
For images of good and poor rise ball spins, click on Fundamentals for Hitting the Rise Ball.
Ask each of the team pitchers to stand about twenty feet away and spin their rise ball. The hitter observes wrist and finger position at release (image left) to identify the rise. Then, match the spin to the above pictures to judge good vs. poor.
Now ask the pitchers to go back to regulation distance and throw their rise. Closely observe the release of the pitch and trajectory as it arrives at the plate. If the pitcher throws the poor rise under 60 mph, the pitch crosses the plate level or slightly dropping. If the pitcher throws the poor spinning rise over 60 mph, the pitch continues to follow closer to the upward trajectory given to it at release. If the pitcher has a good rise spin and the ball travels over 60 mph, the rise lifts higher than its upward trajectory – a terrific “out” pitch.
Recognizing the rise at release and the spin as the ball travels guides the fastpitch softball hitter when making their plan at the plate, especially when facing a pitcher predominantly throwing rise balls.
Step 2 (Hit the Poor Rise)
Practice hitting the poor rise as the hitter would any high fastball (see Tool XXVIII: Pitch Location Drills, Drill VI – High Pitch Drill).
Step 3 (Experiment with Methods to Hit the Good Rise)
An excellent spinning rise is challenging. A dot or circle on the side of the ball indicates a well-spun rise ball.
Use 1) live pitching or 2) a Jugs one-wheel pitching machine (click the link to shop for a durable and affordable pitching machine) with Jugs lite-flight (foam) balls (click to shop for lite flights). Lite Flights from 25 feet fly like an excellent spinning rise ball. Further away, and they rise too much. Here are two techniques to try out for hitting the rising pitch:
Technique 1 for Hitting the Rise Ball (Aim Higher)
Target the machine at or just under the top of the strike zone. Ask the hitter to use the same swing path as the high fastball (+3 to +7 attack angle) but aim higher in the ball’s projected (vunneled) upward direction. With this strategy, the hitter is not swinging in the plane of the pitch. The pitch trajectory is up, and so is the barrel, resulting in a reduced margin of error at their intersection – timing needs to be precise to square up the ball. Block practice 50 swings striving to lay-off pitches breaking above the zone. Measure and track the number of line drives.
Technique 2 for Hitting the Rise Ball (Top-Hand-Over)
The hitter could start their hands high and simply swing down to get on plane with the good rise. But due to the longer and downward swing path, productivity would suffer on all other non-rise pitches.
Instead, here is how to build a top-hand-over swing pattern (tomahawk). Start with slow dry swings. Just as the hands start to move from their loaded position, the hitter “throws a punch” with their top hand while keeping the bottom hand stable. At first, the barrel points straight up and then straight down as the slow swing finishes. The hitter naturally feels awkward at first – they have been taught not to roll their hands over early. Now gradually increase the speed of the dry swing. When executed at full speed, these early, top-hand over bottom-hand (“rolling over”) mechanics drive the barrel slightly up, over, and then in a slightly downward swing path as the barrel enters the hitting zone (just as when rolling over hands more out-front). Ideally, the barrel travels slightly downward (-5 attack angle), in the same plane (click to view our free article describing the advantages of swinging in plane with the trajectory of the pitch) as the lifting rise ball, thereby maximizing the margin of error and increasing the rate of hard-hit balls. Use this new swing pattern only when the hitter identifies the rise at release.
Anytime the hitter can get their swing path on the same plane as the pitch, the contact rate goes up.
Once the hitter has obtained a moderate comfort level, return to the pitching machine and lite flights. Ask the hitter to hit the high rise using the top-hand-over technique. Frequently, stop and do a few more dry swings to continue to build feeling. Because comfort increases over time, ask the hitter to experiment for at least four practices before determining if the top-handover pattern works for them.
Tool XXXI: Mental Training Drills, Drill VI – Rise Ball Hitting Drills – Plate Approach Drill
Poor rise balls do not rise! They are simply a high, slightly inward drifting fastball. Fastpitch softball hitters strike out on poor rises because they are not disciplined for pitches above the strike zone. On the other hand, the well-spun rise is a deceiving pitch.
Purpose – Increase productivity when facing pitchers throwing a high percentage of rises.
Attention Focus – External Process focus on identifying the rise at release and predicting the pitch path.
Review –Fundamentals of Hitting the Rise Ball (click for how to improve rise ball hitting productivity).
Step 1 (Recognize Release and Spin)
Perform drill Tool XXX: Movement Drills, Drill III – Rise Ball Drill (see above).
Step 2 (Look High and Fast and “Crush” the Poor Rise)
Rise balls are thrown nearly as hard as fastballs. If the pitcher’s rise spin is poor, causing the trajectory to flatten as the pitch reaches the plate, the hitter can look high and fast until they have two strikes; the poor rise has the same path as the high fastball. The hitter checks on all slow or low pitches and pitches above the strike zone.
If the hitter identifies a pitcher throwing 33% or more rise balls AND the rise has a poor spin, expect a “field day” with the right plate approach, good high pitch discipline, and a grooved high strike swing pattern.
With a two-strike count, the hitter may switch to more of a protection approach using their baseline two-strike strategy (see Tool XXXI: Mental Training Drills, Drill IV – Two Strike Drill).
Begin by practicing Tool XXVIII: Pitch Location Drills, Drill VI – High Pitch Drill. Then use front toss, machine, live BP, or live pitching, or a combination. Mix up pitches, including one-third high fastball strikes, one-third fastballs above the strike zone, and one-third off-speed and low pitches. If using a machine, loosen the vertical adjustment lever to vary pitch height.
The hitter only swings on the high strike. When the high strike comes, ask the hitter to make it count and drive the ball hard at a 15-degree launch angle to the middle of the field.
To get the high and fast look confident and game-ready, the hitter practices this step until they can complete both of the following goals within 100 pitches:
- Ninety-percent correct look decisions.
- Twenty hard-hit balls.
Step 3 (Plate Approach with Less Than Two Strikes for the Good Rise)
If a pitcher throws 33%+ rise balls AND the rise has the correct spin, creating a lifting trajectory, the best way to beat this pitcher is patience. Hitters look low (low pitch including off-speed) or low and fast (low fastballs or low mistake rises only) until two strikes. The goals are to avoid 1) chasing the rise ball out of the top of the zone and wasting a strike or worse, 2) popping out.
Moreover, it is delicate for fastpitch softball pitchers to locate that lifting rise ball for a high strike. Typically, the vast majority of well-spun rise balls, starting above waist-high, result in balls. Even though tempting to swing at, the hitter purposefully trains to lay off. Looking low is the solution; looking low against a good rise pitcher generally gets the hitter ahead in the count. Crucially, just because a pitcher “sneaks in” one rise strike is no reason to change the look – remain patient! Be ready for the rise ball mistake, starting below waist-high. Due to the lower trajectory, even the upward spinning rise crosses the plate level, making them a fat pitch.
Use a pitching machine with Jugs lite-flight balls to practice the low fast look (see Stone VIII: Throwing Methods and Training Aids). Lite-flights from 25 feet fly like an excellent spinning rise ball. Further away, and they rise too much. If the machine is aimed lower, lite-flights stay level, just as with a rise ball “mistake” pitch thrown low. Vary up and down pitch location by loosening the vertical lever on the machine to adjust the pitch’s height. Ask the hitter to block practice 50 rise balls, swinging only at waist-high and below pitches (looking low and fast). Repeat during at least four upcoming practices.
Next, use live pitching from a regulation distance. Ask the pitcher to mix in rises, change-ups, and low fastballs to effectively help the hitter train. The hitter can look for any pitch low or a low fastball/rise only. Block practice 50 pitches laying off anything above the waist.
By looking low, the fastpitch softball hitter sees better pitches to hit and dramatically increases their QAB% facing great rise ball pitchers.
Step 4 (Plate Approach with Two Strikes for the Good Rise)
The pitcher knows the batter is more inclined to protect and chase the rise above the zone with two strikes. The good spinning rise ball is an “out” pitch for which the hitter diligently prepares:
- Vunnel the high lifting pitch to the top of the strike zone and then utilize their “get-on-top” swing pattern.
- Vunnel the high lifting pitch out of the strike zone and check swing.
- Protecting against a low strike of any speed.
Begin by practicing Step 3 in Tool XXX: Movement Drills, Drill III – Hitting the Rise Ball Drills (see above).
Next, use a pitching machine with Jugs lite-flight balls or live pitching to practice vunneling rises to the top of the strike zone. The hitter uses their “get on top” swing pattern. For four practice sessions, block practice 50 rise balls, swinging only at predicted strikes.
Lastly, use game-like pitching where the pitcher is trying to strike out the batter, mixing in rises. Ask the hitter to take ten at-bats, beginning each at-bat with a 2-2 count. The more the hitter can face game-like pitching against a good rise ball pitcher, the more confident and productive they will be.
Step 5 (Rise Ball Hitting Drills for the Experienced Rise Ball Hitter)
As the fastpitch hitter gains confidence in their get on the top swing, they may modify their plate approach by looking for the rise ball, in the upper strike zone, before two strikes.
Practice Step 6 Look High in Tool XXXI: Mental Training Drills, Drill III – Look for Pitch Drill, but do the drill using the hitter’s “get-on-top” swing pattern (see above Step 3 Experiment with Methods to Hit the Good Rise in Tool XXX: Movement Drills, Drill III – Rise Ball Drill). Employ a pitching machine with lite-flight balls or live pitching mixing in rises.
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