Every hitter loves to hit the fastball in the middle of the plate. We all dream about that first pitch heater that splits the dish, or that 2-0 sinker that doesn't sink. When the ball is on its way home it almost moves in slow motion and we can drive through the ball with our most aggressive swing.
Unfortunately, these pitches only come along a couple times a week. Maybe if we are lucky we see a couple in a single game. But, we have all been through dry spells when it feels like every pitch is on the corner.
So what do we do when we are getting tough pitch after tough pitch? Do we just throw our hands up and say that we can't hit those pitches? Obviously, that's not the answer. So how do we get better at competing when the pitcher makes his pitch?
The first place to go for answers is to look is at your practice routine. Challenge yourself to spend more time working on handling the extreme edges of the strike zone. The best way to start this is on the tee. Instead of placing the ball down the middle try working on the ball up and in, or down and away. Make sure that you are set up to home plate exactly the way you would in a game. You could even try to work this tee routine without striding that way you can't cheat with your stride foot.
Once you have worked through the tee routine and you start to hit the ball moving (could be front flips, short toss, or live batting practice), make sure that the focus is on working the peripheral of the zone. For best results with this, I suggest hitting off short front toss where the pitcher is throwing over hand but close enough where he can be very accurate. The correct frame of mind should be to be to put yourself in an even count situation. This is game like practice! Fastballs, curve balls, change ups every pitch should be in play. This type of practice will give you the necessary reps that are vital to having success against borderline pitches.
Another area to examine is your mental approach. If you are struggling to handle the corners of the plate or off speed pitches ask yourself these questions. Are you looking in too small of an area? Sometimes hitters get so focused on "their pitch" that they are letting pitches go that can still be covered up. If you find yourself taking too many pitches for strikes re-examine your approach. Try to look for a broader area or maybe even look for the breaking ball if the pitcher is delivering a steady diet of them.
Am I trying to pull too much? I am all for hitters looking to get the bat head out and trying to drive the ball to the pull side, but if that approach isn't working at the moment try shifting your focus to the middle of the field. This will force you to make the ball get deeper giving you better pitch recognition. The idea is that as you let the ball travel longer you will give yourself more pitches to be competitive on.
Do I trust my hands? Most hitters struggle when they feel late? If you find yourself in that place at the moment try making some small adjustments to your grip or stance. Choking up and widening your stance are two great ways to battle feeling late. Shortening the bat and eliminating some length from your stride will immediately put you in a position to be shorter to the ball.
Hitting is the toughest thing to do in sports. The hardest part is that we have so many different pitches to try to cover. Hopefully these tips will give you some food for thought. Try them out and see if you start handling more pitches. I bet you do!