Pitcher Fielding (Ancaster Baseball)

PrintPitcher Fielding

Written by Brian Priebe

Pitchers actually work two shifts. Their first shift is throwing strikes. Their second shift begins with the release of the ball. They then become a fifth infielder. Their ability to moonlight as an infielder can impact the game as much as anything they do from on the mound. Their fielding duties will change with the situation and will be guided by the following principles.

Know What To Do Before The Ball Is In Play 

Before every at-bat, the pitcher should skim through a mental checklist of his coverage responsibilities. He must check the game situation and the offense's probable strategy, then coordinate this with his pitch selection and where he wants the batter to hit the ball. He can enhance his mental game by visualizing himself performing his defensive role with a successful result. 

End In A Good Fielding Position 

The pitcher's momentum should bring him directly toward the plate and into his squared-away follow-through position: feet parallel, knees bent, weight evenly distributed over the balls of the feet, head up, eyes on the ball, and hands out in front. From this position, the pitcher can move quickly toward the ball, prevent come-back smashes from hitting him in the chest or knees, and catch balls which would otherwise sneak through for singles. Finishing the delivery in a good fielding position also reduces stress on the throwing arm and fosters accuracy within the strike zone. 

Hustle Off The Mound 

The faster the pitcher gets to the ball, the more time he'll have to set his body for a good throw. Quick feet can spell the difference between inning-ending double-plays and higher ERA's. The pitcher cannot shuffle around the mound, passively watching the play unfold. His first few steps must be swift and decisive. 

Turn Toward The Glove Side 

If the pitcher has to charge in to field the ball, as on a bunt or a swinging roller, he should come over the ball, field it with both hands, pivot to his glove side, and stride toward his target for the throw. If he must make a throw after receiving the ball from another fielder, say when covering first or backing up third, the pitcher should also spin toward his glove side to ensure a strong, accurate throw. 

Throw To The Letters 

The pitcher should grip the ball across the four big seams and deliver it to the receiver about chest high. This affords the receiver a clear view of the ball and an opportunity to get off a quick throw or make a tag. We encourage pitchers to use sound throwing mechanics off the mound as well as on it. This involves executing a crow hop to achieve body balance and keeping their fingers on top of the ball to apply backspin (6 o’clock - 12 o’clock rotation) and to throw straight. Unless impossible, he should always take a step on his throw. Throwing without a step can put unnecessary stress on the arm and lead to wild throws. The pitcher's throwing skills can improve through "focused throwing" at the beginning of every practice. Instead of merely playing catch to loosen up, pitchers can throw at specified targets. Make the drill both instructive and competitive by turning it into a game-- awarding one point for hitting the chest and three points for targeting the head, with a reward going to the winner.
Beyond these fundamentals, the pitchers have specific fielding duties that vary according to the number of runners on base, the runners’ foot speed, which bases they are on, the inning and score, the number of outs, and where and how hard the batter hits the ball. 

Backing Up Bases 

Backing up usually consists of standing in foul territory at least 40 feet behind a base (usually third or home) and in line with the throw. If the fence is closer, the pitcher can stand with his backside brushing it. Most hits to the outfield will trigger the need for back up. The pitcher's immediate response should be to sprint half way between third and home, turn around, and quickly assess where the throw will go. Maybe the most important point to emphasize is to expect every throw to skip past the base and roll to the fence. 

Rundowns 

The pitcher will always participate in converting rundowns into put-outs. As a rule, he should occupy a backup position behind either first, third, or the plate. He can become a primary ball-handler whenever he initiates the play or fills a gap created by infielders weaving in and out. 

Either way, the pitcher's objectives should be to: 

1) position the ball between the runner and the lead base, 
2) force the runner to sprint back toward the trail base, 
3) avoid an interference call, and 
4) secure the put-out after just one throw. 

Turning Two 

In any kind of double-play situation, the pitcher and middle infielders should communicate (with hand signals) before the pitch to determine who will cover second on a come-backer. After fielding the grounder and spinning toward his glove side, the pitcher should throw to the bag-- delivering the ball chest high to facilitate the ensuing catch, pivot, and throw. 

Covering First Base 

On all balls hit to the right side of the infield, the pitcher must immediately break for first base. He must always assume that the first baseman will not reach the bag in time. He follows one of two paths to the bag. In a double-play situation, the pitcher should run straight to the base, tag it with the right foot, stop, and turn toward the infielder making the throw. If the initial play is to first, he should sprint to a point on the foul line about 10 feet from the bag, then reduce his speed, gain control of his body, and run along the inside of the foul line to the bag. Remaining inside the line will prevent collisions and provide the first baseman with an easy target. Upon tagging the bag with his right foot, the pitcher should wheel around (toward his glove side) to check the other runners on base. 

Bunts 

With a runner on first or runners on first or second in a sacrifice-bunt situation, the pitcher will share coverage of the infield grass with either the third baseman, the first baseman, or both. The pitcher must field anything he can reach and, whenever possible, cut down the lead runner. The toughest play for a pitcher to make on a bunt is a force out at second. Because the base runner already starts with a lead-off, the pitcher has a very small window of time to field the ball and complete the long throw to second. To improve the odds for a successful force, a pitcher should turn his body toward his glove side as he approaches the ball-- pointing his throwing side toward the plate and his glove side toward second. He then fields the ball off his back foot with most of his weight on the back leg. From this position, he can straighten up slightly, push off his back leg and fire a strike to second. If the pitcher cannot get the lead runner, he should regroup and step and throw to first for the sure out. All throws to first should be to the inside of the foul line so the first baseman can avoid extending his body across the line and exposing himself to a collision. With runners on first and second, the pitcher has to coordinate his movements with those of the third baseman. The latter should charge in on the tap and promptly decide whether the pitcher can reach the ball in time. If the pitcher can get there, the third baseman should immediately scramble back to third for the possible force out. If the pitcher cannot get to the ball in time, the third baseman should continue on in for the bunt and throw to first or, on a hard hit ball, maybe throw to second. The pitcher should maneuver out of the third baseman’s way and cover third for a potential play on the lead runner. 

Infield Pop Ups 

Most coaches want their position players to handle all infield flies. Even in this scheme, the pitcher can still make himself useful. He can: 

1) help his teammates locate the ball by talking to them and pointing skyward at the ball, and 
2) cover any base vacated by a position player. 

Passed Balls and Wild Pitches 

Whenever a pitch flies past the catcher with runners on base, the pitcher should: 

1) sprint and cover the plate while the catcher tracks down the ball, 2) point at the ball and yell directions to the catcher to help him locate the ball quickly. 

At the youth level, hard throwing pitchers often dominate the game and can clock out after the "first shift". As they graduate to higher levels of competition, pitchers must bring much more to the field besides their pitching skills. They need to understand their responsibilities as the fifth infielder and that their extra efforts will contribute directly to solid team defense and victories.

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Printed from ancasterbaseball.ca on Sunday, December 17, 2017 at 8:56 AM