The start of the season is right around the corner. College kids are about to start games, pro spring training is starting up and high school tryouts are a few weeks away. While every team and organization is different, the start of practice often means hitting off of pitching machines for most hitters. Today I want to discuss the best practices to look good hitting off of one. To start, I have never been a big fan of pitching machines. This comes mostly from personal bias that I had when I was a player and this led me to not have a machine at Elite Diamond Performance for the first three years. However, I realized that whether I like them or not, pro teams, college programs and high school coaches are still going to use them and I better get one to help my hitters. So, I purchased the Hack Attack Junior a few months ago and have been gradually exposing guys to it. Results have been mixed but many hitters struggle at first when facing the machine. I have found there to be three main things that hitters can do to improve their performance off of a pitching machine.
1. LOAD EARLY The number one reason that I see hitters struggle is that they struggle with timing. This is the number one complaint I hear from hitters and the biggest reason I was so anti machine in the past. There are a lot of cues that hitters get from hitting off of a live pitcher that they don’t get from the machine. So, in order to be on time, hitters must simplify the process. Loading early simply means getting the load, or backward weight shift, done before the ball shoots out of the machine. Watch the video below to see how one of my better machine hitters gathers his load before the ball exits the machine.
2. MAINTAIN MECHANICS One of the more frustrating things to see when hitters face the machine can be a breakdown of mechanics. Many times hitters simply want to get the bat to the ball rather than maintaining good swing mechanics. There are often two reasons for this. Number one ties directly to timing. When a hitter gets loaded too late, they compensate by letting the hands take over too much in the swing and simply pushing at the ball. Number two is a change in approach. When hitters simply try to put the ball in play, they often times flatten out their bat path and struggle making solid contact. The best cue that I would want hitters to take in any hitting setting is to drive the ball as far as they can in the air.
3. REPETITION As I stated earlier, I have seen some of my best, most consistent hitters struggle in the beginning of machine work. However, I have seen a pretty steady improvement with all of my hitters the more work they get off of it. Simply put, if a pitching machine is part of your tryout or practice routine where you are going to be evaluated, get enough machine work to the point that you feel comfortable.