PITCHERS-BACK UP BASES
Teach your pitchers to back up a base on all plays. There is no play in baseball where players should be standing around after a base hit.
You have to reinforce this because sometimes a pitcher will hang his head when he gives up a hit and he won’t hustle to the spot where he should be. (This is part of a pitcher’s mental toughness training.)
The proper position for a play at home plate is behind the plate, as deep as possible and directly in line with the throw. Use the third and first basemen for cutoffs on throws to the plate. Their position is on the infield grass in line with the throw and the catcher. If a ball is hit to the left field, the third baseman is the cutoff man. The first baseman is the cutoff on all other throws to the plate.
The exception is when there is a runner on first base and a ball is hit deep in the left/right-centerfield gap. The middle infielders go out to form a double relay and the third baseman must stay at home to cover his base. The first baseman becomes the cutoff. The first baseman peels off to become the cutoff as he is following the runner to 2b.
Here are a pitcher’s responsibilities for backing up bases:
- Single to left or center field with no one on base- backs up second base in direct line with outfield throw.
- Single to right field with no one on base- a pitcher’s first reaction should be to hustle to first base in case of a play there.
- Single to the outfield with a runner on first base- backs up third base in line with the throw from the outfield, as deeply as possible. The SS is the cutoff man in this situation. He will be stationed approximately 60 feet from third base in line with the throw.
- Single to the outfield with a runner on second base and trying to score- backs up home in direct line with the throw.
- All extra base hits with no one on base backs up the base where ball will be thrown.
- Extra base hit with a runner on first base- becomes a floater. The pitcher should hustle to a spot halfway between third and home and then hustles to back up the base where the ball will be thrown. This play should be drilled in practice. It takes some timing and skill.
Pitchers should always hustle with controlled speed to their backup positions (Being under control helps you to react at the proper time.) They should get as deep behind the base as they can and still be in line with the throw. If they are too close to the base, the overthrow will get by them too. Remember on the big fields the dugouts are open (no fence) and when a ball goes into it, the runner(s) get an extra base. The pitcher must do everything in his power to prevent this.
One of the best players we had the pleasure of coaching was Andy Wilson. (Mets organization) I can remember a few of his home runs but one of the plays that stands out most in my mind is in a game when he was a pitcher and had to back up third base. The throw from the outfield was strong and took a wickedly unpredictable hop, away from him. It got past the third baseman and Andy actually dove in front of the ball and blocked it with his body; no glove, no hands, he took the blow with his chest to prevent it from going into the dugout. That is playing winning baseball.
Pitchers should get out of the infield on all possible plays at the plate. Otherwise they are clogging things up. Teach them to go where they are supposed to go. Proper back ups by the pitching staff will save you a run or two in the course of a season. These are some more of the ‘little things’ that win close games.
Several years ago, the Little League World Series ended when the pitcher cut a throw to the plate from the left fielder while standing 10 feet IN FRONT OF THE CATCHER. Under pressure, a pitcher (and all players) will instinctively do what they have practiced.
Little League coaches, have your pitchers go the correct position after a base hit with a runner on second. I know many coaches use their pitchers as the cut-off, but that’s not the correct way to teach the game. Forget the fact that most Little League pitchers are the best athletes on the field. Teach them the game the way it is supposed to be played and get your other players involved.
We have seen numerous high school pitchers seal their fate by failing to instinctively perform their defensive responsibilities. On the high school level freshman and sophomore pitchers are compared to junior and seniors for “projectability”. Many times a coach will take a young pitcher with below average arm strength if he comes across as smart and coachable. Instinctively performing his defensive duties is his best way to portray this. In fact there are many junior and seniors that don’t always perform these instinctively.
Tim recalls one scrimmage in particular where a good pitcher was the last player cut from the varsity one spring. It was a varsity scrimmage and he had pitched relatively well until a ground ball was hit in the hole between a diving 1b and a diving 2b. The 2b made a spectacular play but there was no one covering the bag. You guessed it. The pitcher was still standing on the mound. He instantly knew better, but unfortunately he had not practiced this enough to where it was instinctive. He sealed his fate right then. He showed everyone that he was not ready. His natural ability was not able to overcome his lack of knowledge/instinct. He was sent down the next day. (What an honor it would have been to be the only freshman selected for the varsity that year.)
Another example was a senior pitcher that had pitched well for 5 innings in a big game (scouts and college recruiters in attendance). He walked the lead off batter to start off the 6th inning. The runner took third base on a perfectly executed hit and run. The left fielder preceded to short hop the third baseman with his throw and the ball bounced toward the dugout.
This is when the pitcher broke from the mound. Unfortunately this was too late. He hustled and even dove as the ball barely rolled across the edge of the dugout but the umpire yelled “dead ball” and awarded the runner home. The pitcher never recovered and could not finish the game. This pitcher was a great athlete (3 sport letterman) but unfortunately he was never taught all of the “little things” in youth ball, so they would be instinctive years later. He had the ability but, never pitched past high school.
These skills are just as important as proper throwing mechanics and pick off moves. They define a total pitcher.