Circle of change: With pitching rubber moved back, coaches expect an increase in offense
Mikayla Duffy can’t rely on zipping a fastball by hitters anymore.
The Central High School senior pitcher will need to mix it up more this softball season, with the pitching rubber moving back three feet to 43 feet from home plate.
Duffy, who has verbally committed to the University of Northern Colorado, realizes it will be tougher to strike out batters and limit opponents to two runs or fewer like she did last year. Duffy struck out 136 batters as a junior and had a 1.52 ERA, going 18-1.
“Being at 43, I like it a lot more because I’ll have more movement and more spin on the ball instead of just straight speed,” Duffy said. “It will give the batters a longer chance to see the ball, but I think it will make the team and me better, knowing I have to move the ball more.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations rule change will give hitters a longer look at pitches, giving them more opportunity to put the ball in play.
“It will become more of a hitter’s game,” Fruita Monument coach Jamie Dunn said. “We’ll have to play better defense. You can’t rely on a good pitcher anymore. You have to have a good defense to back them up. It will hurt pitchers without a lot of movement on the ball.”
It could also affect the running game.
“I think it will help us,” Central coach Scott Else said. “We have good team speed at the top of the order. I think it will play to our advantage.”
That, in turn, could lead to more runs being scored.
“I think most good teams will average six or seven runs,” Else said. “Girls now are so big and strong. They can hit the ball out at Mesa State.”
The rule change will help protect pitchers from line drives.
“I think the safety concern was a big issue,” Grand Junction coach Adam Diaz said. “By the time the pitcher was lunging and taking a step after the pitch, they were 38 feet from home plate and the ball was coming at them fast.”
Many of the high school softball players have already played two summers with the pitching rubber at 43 feet, and Central catcher Danielle Romine has seen a difference.
“It will give the pitches a longer time to break, so you’ll see more movement than you would at 40 feet,” Romine said. “You’ve got to be ready for a rise ball or curveball because it gives it a longer time to break.
“We saw in the summer a lot of pitchers you could tell worked on their change-ups. The pitcher is not always going to be able to throw it past the hitter.”
Although the pitchers will be challenged with the rule change, Else said it will make the game better.
“Softball has been such a pitching-dominant game for so long,” he said. “This will improve safety and make it a more competitive game. Now, it will take a more well-rounded, balanced team.”