The Pitcher as a Fielder [ARTICLE]

The Pitcher as a Fielder


excerpt from Baseball Playbook by Ron Polk available at

www.ChampionshipProductions.com

 

Once the pitch leaves the pitcher's hand, the pitcher can no longer consider himself a pitcher. He is now a fielder until the ball is cleanly caught by the catcher. Many pitchers leave the distinct impression that they feel their job is completed when they throw the pitch to the plate. The pitcher who takes tremendous pride in his fielding responsibility can save many a ball game for himself and his team.

It is the responsibility of the coach to make certain that his pitching staff knows how to deal with every type of defensive situation that they might face in the course of a game. In the fundamental drill series and situation plays that were previously detailed in the Playbook, the pitching staff can be drilled in these basic defensive responsibilities. The following are the areas of fielding responsibilities and mechanics that the pitchers must be drilled on so that they can provide the team with a capable fifth infielder:

1. Fielding position on the follow through—To be a consistent fielder, the pitcher must finish with his follow through in a squared position to the batter so that he might be ready to respond defensively to a batted ball. If his delivery to the plate causes him to fall off to either side of the mound, his defensive capabilities will be drastically diminished. The pivot foot should end up as near parallel to the stride foot as possible on his follow through, with the weight equally balanced on the balls of both feet. Once in this basic fielding position, he must anticipate that the batter will be hitting the ball back at him on each pitch. A good fielding pitcher who can knock down ground balls directly up the middle of the infield can allow his shortstop and second baseman to move a couple of steps away from second base, which will make the infield defense that much tighter.

2. Fielding the ground ball hit back to the mound—There is not an infielder around who would like to face the prospect of attempting to field a ground ball off an incline such as the pitcher is confronted with in the case of the mound. This is why the pitching staff needs to receive plenty of fungoed ground balls while positioned on the mound in their follow through stance. Since the pitcher is only about 55 feet away from the hitter on their follow through, they must be prepared to get their glove on the ball for two reasons: (1) to field the ball in order to make a play on a runner; and (2) to protect themselves from bodily injury. Knocking the ball down will generally give the pitcher the chance to retire a runner since the ball will reach the pitcher quicker than to any infielder. If they can cleanly field the "come-backer, they should have no problem getting an out somewhere. Thus, the pitcher must accept the challenge of keeping every ground ball back to him in front of his body. He must get his glove on the ball unless the hitter hits a "rocket". It is important that the pitcher look the ground ball into his glove, and then take his time exchanging the ball out of the glove to his throwing hand.

3. Throwing the ball from the mound to first base—If the play on the runner is to be at first base, the pitcher must allow the first baseman ample time to get set-up at the base. This is especially true when the pitcher fields a hard hit ground ball when the first baseman is playing well away from the base. If this is the case, the pitcher should shuffle step or crow hop toward first base as he waits to throw the ball to first base. Throwing from a stationary position on the mound can cause an inaccurate throw to first base. He should always throw the ball as soon as the first baseman is set on the base so that if the throw is off target, the first baseman has time to come off the base to field the ball and still return to the base for the force out. The pitcher should never play games with the runner heading for first base. The pitcher must be sure he gets his elbow up so that the ball does not tail on the first baseman on its way to first base. He should never aim the ball, for this is the main reason for inaccurate throws to first base. This is especially the case when the pitcher has plenty of time, and starts thinking about the throw. The ball should be thrown about three-quarters the normal speed of the pitcher's fast ball to the plate. Of course, if he boots the ball or there is an extremely fast runner heading for first base, he will have to deliver his best fast ball to the first baseman. As the pitcher steps and throws to first base, he wants the ball to be caught by the first baseman from the area of his chest to his shoulders.

4. Fielding bunts and slow rollers—The key to the success of a pitcher getting an out on a slowly hit or bunted ball is the quickness of the pitcher off the mound to the spot where the ball will be fielded. Once he gets to this spot, he must have his body under control so that he might field the ball and set his feet properly for a strong and accurate throw to a base. Another key to getting an out on this play is the pitcher's ability to keep his eyes on the ball throughout the fielding stage. Too many times a pitcher, in his rush to come up throwing, never sees the ball into his glove which may prompt a misplay on the ball. Any misplay or bobble on this type of play will result in the defense not getting an out. The pitchers must be cautioned to always field the ball first, and then worry about the throw to the respective base where the play will be made.

5. Balls to the first base side of the mound with a play at first base (righthanded pitcher)—On slow hit or bunted balls to the first base side of the mound, the righthanded pitcher should use his glove as a shovel, with his bare hand scooping the ball into the glove. Both hands should come up together toward the right shoulder as the pitcher plants his right foot for the throw to first base. The pitcher should never bare hand the ball unless it has stopped on the grass. This would be a do-or-die play at first base. There may be times that the righthanded pitcher will not have time to straighten up to throw the ball to first base. If that is the case, he needs to get his elbow up as high as possible when releasing the ball off balance so that his throw is more accurate and the first baseman can see the ball more clearly. He should attempt to throw the ball to the inside of first base so that the first baseman gets a good picture of the ball. The first baseman must always yell "inside-inside" anytime the pitcher or catcher fields a ball close to the first baseline. The closer the pitcher is to the first baseman at the time of the throw, the higher the throw should be to the first baseman so that he can see the ball that much easier. Of course, the closer the pitcher is to the first baseman the softer the throw as well. If fielding a ball close to the first baseman, the pitcher needs to be sure to give him a clear view of the ball as he tosses it underhand to him (pull the glove out of the way). If the righthanded pitcher has time and he is a good distance away from first base when he fields the ball, then he should step toward first base to add velocity and accuracy to his throw.

6. Balls to the first base side of the mound with a play at first base (lefthanded pitcher)—The closer the ball is to the first baseline, the tougher the play will be for the lefthanded pitcher. This is due to the fact of the nature of the angle of the throw to first base and the full pivot necessary for the pitcher to execute a throw to the first baseman covering the bag. The lefthanded pitcher must overrun the ball slightly, spin on his left foot, and make the throw to first base by stepping in the direction of the throw with his right foot. All the other rules for making this play would be the same as they were described for the righthanded pitcher.

7. Communication on ball rolling near either baseline—Good judgment by the pitcher is necessary in dealing with bunts or slow rollers down either baseline. He must make the quick decision on whether to field the ball or let it roll in the hope that it will roll foul. The catcher should be in a position to help the pitcher in making this decision since he has a better angle on the movement of the ball in relation to the baseline. The catcher can yell out "field it" when he recommends that the pitcher field the ball in hopes of retiring the runner at first base. "Let it go" should indicate his desire to have the pitcher let the ball roll hoping that it will roll into foul territory. Anytime there is no chance of retiring the runner at first base, the ball should not be touched if there is any chance that the ball might roll into foul territory. "Hit it" is the communication that should be used by the catcher to have the pitcher touch the ball if it clearly is in foul territory in order to prevent the ball from rolling back into fair territory. The same communication can be used by the catcher in dealing with the first baseman and third baseman when they are fielding the ball near their respective baseline.

8. Communication on balls to the first base side of the mound—In addition to being aggressive off the mound on a slow hit or bunted ball, the pitcher must also be an aggressive communicator. Ideally, the pitcher wants to field every ball on the first base side of the mound so that his first baseman can remain at first base to field the throw from the pitcher. This means that the pitcher must let the first baseman know as soon as he reads that he can make the play on the ball. This would be communicated by a loud "I've got it". This command will allow the first baseman to remain or return to first base preparing himself for the throw to the base by the pitcher. If the first baseman sees that the pitcher will be unable to make the play on the ball, and he does not hear any command by the pitcher, he must aggressively go after the ball. The first baseman should also yell "I've got it" so that the pitcher might break toward first base for the throw from the first baseman. If both the pitcher and the first baseman call for the ball at about the same time, the pitcher should have priority on the ball since he has a better throwing angle to first base than the first baseman will have with his back to the base. Whenever the first baseman and the pitcher both break for the slow hit or bunted ball on the first base side of the mound, the second baseman will be responsible for covering first base for the throw to the base. With a lefthanded pitcher going to the first baseline for a ball, the first baseman will want to be a little more aggressive in calling for and fielding the ball. With a righthanded pitcher going toward the first baseline, he will not be as aggressive since the righthanded pitcher will have a much easier play on this type of ball than the lefthander. Anytime the catcher calls for the ball, he would have priority over both the first baseman and the pitcher since he will be moving toward first base as he fields the ball. Bunt communication was detailed in the bunt defense section in an earlier part of the Playbook.

9. Balls in front of the mound with a play at first base (righthanded pitcher)—The righthanded pitcher must break down as he approaches this ball aggressively communicating to the catcher that he will make the play by yelling "I've got it". The catcher will have priority over him if both were to yell for the ball. After he looks the ball into his glove, he will take a shuffle step toward first base with his right foot, and then step and throw with his left foot. The pitcher should never throw this ball flat-footed due to the distance the throw must travel to first base. As in all throws that involve a little distance, the arm should be up and the body in proper throwing position. This will insure better accuracy and velocity for the throw. The ball fielded in front of the mound by the pitcher should never involve a do-or-die play on the pitcher's part unless the pitcher was slow getting off the mound and the bunt was perfectly placed. If that is the case, hopefully the catcher can make the play. If not, it is better that no throw be made unless the pitcher is a great athlete and can make an across the body throw toward first base. Anytime the ball is booted by the pitcher, he should always pick it up with his bare hand rather than with his glove or his hand and glove together. Once the ball is in his hand, he will have to rush the throw to first base. He should just step in the direction of first base with his left foot hoping to get off as strong and accurate throw as his arm will allow him to make.

10. Balls in front of the mound with a play at first base (lefthanded pitcher)—The lefthanded pitcher will have to make a full glove side pivot toward first base in order to make an accurate and strong throw. The pitcher who has quick feet will have no major problem in accomplishing this type of pivot. Even though this pivot takes a little more time than if the pitcher was to pivot to his throwing side, it puts him in a much better position to throw to first base. If the ball is a little on the first base side in front of the mound, he can pivot to his throwing side. Anytime this is done, he must be sure that he steps directly toward first base with his right foot concentrating on getting his elbow up so that the ball will not sail on him to first base. The catcher should take the bunted ball in front of the mound near the plate with a lefthanded pitcher on the mound whenever possible.

11. Balls to the third base side of the mound with a play at first base (righthanded pitcher)—The bunted or slow hit ball to the third base side of the mound is a difficult play for the pitcher due to the fact that his momentum is moving away from the direction where the throw must be made (first base). In addition, he has a long throw to make to retire the runner at first base. The righthanded pitcher must field the ball cleanly making sure that he does not rush through the fielding of the ball and the transfer of the ball to his throwing hand. Once the ball is fielded, he must shuffle step toward first base to establish momentum for the long throw to first base. If the pitcher does not shuffle step (throws flat footed) he may get rid of the ball a little quicker, but the velocity and accuracy of the throw will be affected. Thus, whenever possible the pitcher should take the extra step to establish proper body balance and momentum for this long throw to first base. This is especially true the closer the ball is fielded toward the third baseline.

12. Balls to the third base side of the mound with a play at first base (lefthanded pitcher)—This is an extremely tough play for the lefthanded pitcher due to the fact that he not only has a long throw to make to first base, but he will have to make a full glove side pivot in order to make a strong and accurate throw to the first baseman. He must field the ball on his glove side with his right side already opened up slightly. The tendency will be for the lefthanded pitcher to rush through the fielding stage knowing that he will have a tough play to get the runner at first base. He must fully concentrate on looking the ball into the glove, and then with quick feet, pivot clockwise (glove side) stepping toward first base with his right foot. If time allows, he may shuffle step toward first base to establish more velocity and accuracy on his throw. Due to the fact that this is a very tough play for the lefthanded pitcher, the third baseman and catcher must take this ball away from the pitcher whenever possible.

13. Communication on balls to the third base side of the mound—As was the case with the slow hit or bunted ball on the first base side of the mound, the pitcher must be an aggressive communicator on the ball to the third base side of the mound. This means that the pitcher must let the third baseman and catcher know as soon as he reads that he can make the play on the ball by yelling loudly "I've got it". This is especially crucial with baserunners at first and second base when the third baseman is attempting to hold his ground near the base for the possible play at the base by the pitcher or catcher once the ball has been fielded. The quicker the pitcher can let the third baseman know that he can make the play, the easier it will be for the third baseman to return to third base preparing himself for the throw to the base by the pitcher. If the third baseman sees that the pitcher will be unable to make the play on the ball, or he does not hear any command by the pitcher, he must aggressively go after the ball in hopes of getting the out at first base. The third baseman should also yell "I've got it" so that the pitcher will not interfere with his making the play on the ball. If both the pitcher and third baseman call for the ball, the third baseman should have priority. The third baseman should also have priority over the catcher if both were to call for the ball. Of course, the catcher will have priority over the pitcher. Bunt communication was detailed in the bunt defense section of the Playbook.

14. Throwing the ball from the mound to second base—Before throwing the ball to the plate with a runner at first base and less than two outs, the pitcher should know whether the shortstop or the second baseman will be covering second base on a ball hit right back to him on the mound. With baserunners at first and second base with less than two outs, the pitcher should always throw the ball to second base unless the ball takes him to the first base or third base side of the mound. Many times a pitcher will throw the "come-backer" in this situation to the third baseman at third base forcing the third baseman to make a tough pivot at his base followed by a long throw across the diamond to try to complete the double play. With the bases loaded and less than two outs, the pitcher should always throw the ball to the catcher at the plate if he fields the ball near the mound area. At no time should a pitcher throw the ball off-balance to second base. If he is forced to his right or left to field the ball, he should throw the ball to the base that he is moving toward to insure getting at least one out. If the pitcher throws the ball to second base from the area of the mound, he will pivot after fielding the ball and step in the direction of second base before making the throw to the base. Since the throw is not a long throw, there should be no reason for the pitcher to have to shuffle step toward the base prior to releasing the ball. If he fields the ball in front of the mound, and finds his weight on his heels after pivoting toward second base, he may want to shuffle step prior to throwing the ball to insure a strong and accurate throw to second base. If the shortstop is covering the base, the pitcher should lead him slightly with the ball arriving at the shortstop side of the base at about chest height. If the second baseman is covering the base, the pitcher should throw the ball directly over the base. If the middle infielder covering second base is delayed in getting to the base on the hard ground ball back to the pitcher, the pitcher should shuffle step or crow hop toward second base as he waits to release the ball. He should never remain stationary on the mound waiting for the infielder to reach the base for this can cause an inaccurate throw to the base as the pitcher would throw flat footed. The pitcher must be sure that his arm is up when releasing the ball so that he might better get off a stronger and more accurate throw to second base. Since there is always a chance for the double play, the ball must be thrown with good velocity providing the pivotman with a chance to get the out at first base as well. However, the pitcher can never afford to rush his throw, and subsequently find that his throw is off the mark and no out is made at any base. If the catcher has called for the throw to be made to second base, and the pitcher boots the ball, he must quickly pick up the ball with his bare hand and make the play at first base hoping to retire the batter-runner.

15. Balls in front of the mound or near the baselines with a throw to second base—The mechanics of this play are basically the same for the righthanded and lefthanded pitcher. They both will have to make a full pivot after they field the ball in order to get off a strong and accurate throw to second base. The direction of the ball in relation to the baseline will determine the difficulty of the pivot for the pitcher. For example, the ball near the first baseline will call for a little easier pivot for a play at second base for the right handed pitcher than for the lefthanded pitcher. Vice versa, the ball down the third baseline will call for an easier pivot for the lefthanded pitcher in contrast with the pivot the righthanded pitcher will have to make. The catcher should assume the responsibility of directing the fielder of a slow hit or bunted ball as to which base the ball should be thrown. This communication was discussed in detail earlier in the bunt defense section of the Playbook. With a runner at first base and less than two outs, the pitcher has got to anticipate whether or not he will have a play on the runner advancing to second base as he approaches the ball. If the pitcher must go a great distance from the mound to field the ball, he can safely assume that the only play the catcher will call is to first base. In most cases, he should be thinking second base as he approaches the ball, so that he is not shocked when the catcher starts yelling "two-two". The pitcher should always field the ball on his glove side along with having his body slightly opened to the glove side so that the body does not have as far to pivot once the ball is cleanly fielded. By dropping back the foot on the glove side slightly as the ball is fielded, he is now in a better position to pivot toward second base. Once the ball is cleanly fielded, the pitcher must shuffle step quickly in the direction of second base as his throwing arm prepares to release the ball. The shuffle step is necessary due to the length of the throw that must be made to second base. Pitchers with extremely strong arms might not need the benefit of the shuffle step toward second base. They would merely pivot and bend low to push off the back leg as they step toward second base. The chance for the double play on a ball that takes the pitcher well off the mound is minimal. However, there is always the chance for the force out at second base. Late in the game, the catcher may wish to gamble on the lead runner and the pitcher must be prepared to get off a strong and accurate throw to the shortstop or second baseman on the bag. If the pitcher observes as he prepares to throw to second base that he will not have a play at the base, then he must quickly shift his feet so that he can step and throw the ball to first base.

16. Balls in front of the mound or near the baselines with a throw to third base (righthanded pitcher)—Anytime the pitcher is instructed by the catcher to throw the ball to third base ("three-three") on a slow hit or bunted ball, the situation is generally critical. If the attempt on the runner at third base is unsuccessful, it will put a runner at third base without the benefit of an out recorded. The righthanded pitcher is at a disadvantage on any throw to third base from in front of the mound or near a baseline since he will have to make a complete pivot before releasing the ball. The chances for a double play via third base on this type of ball is practically impossible, so the pitcher's full concentration must be on getting the force out at third base. Communication on the bunted ball is crucial to getting the out at third base, especially on the bunted ball to the third base side of the mound. This communication was detailed in the bunt defense section of the Playbook. If the ball takes the righthanded pitcher directly toward third base, he can merely underhand or flip the ball to the third baseman covering the base. If the ball takes him toward the third baseline, he might be able to pivot to his throwing side after fielding the ball if he feels that this is the only method to make the play at third base. Anytime he pivots to his throwing side, he must be sure to step as much as possible in the direction of third base. This requires quick feet on the part of the righthanded pitcher. He must also attempt to get his throwing arm up as much as he can to insure a more accurate throw to third base. This will also provide the third baseman with a clearer view of the ball as it leaves the pitcher's hand. On any other type of slow hit or bunted ball, the righthanded pitcher must make the full glove side pivot toward third base prior to releasing the ball. He should field the ball on his glove side, pivot quickly so that he pushes off his right foot and steps with his left foot in the direction of his throw to third base. If he fields the ball near the first baseline and is instructed by the catcher to make the throw to third base, he might have to shuffle step prior to his release of the ball to insure more velocity to his throw. Most of the time, the ball near the first baseline will not allow for a play at third base, unless the pitcher is very quick to the ball and the runner going from second to third base is very slow. All throws to third base for the force out should be thrown chest high to the third baseman. If the pitcher recognizes the fact that he will not have a play at third base, then he must quickly glove side pivot to set his feet for the play at first base on the batter-runner. The same holds true if he boots the ball when his intentions were to make the throw to third base.

17. Balls in front of the mound or near the baselines with a throw to third base (lefthanded pitcher)—The lefthanded pitcher has a distinct advantage over the righthanded pitcher in making the throw to third base after fielding the ball. A ball fielded to the third base side of the mound will require practically no pivot at all as the pitcher shovels the ball into his glove. The ball fielded on the first base side of the mound will require the lefthander to glove side pivot after fielding the ball on his glove hand side. If the pitcher needs to insure additional velocity on his throw to third base, he would shuffle step toward the base as he prepares to release the ball. The shuffle step should not be necessary for any ball fielded in front of the mound or to the third base side due to the short distance of the throw.

18. Plays at the plate on a ground ball—On any ground ball fielded by the pitcher with a play at the plate, he must be sure that he makes an accurate throw. He can not afford to rush this throw or make an off-balance throw, unless it is a do-or-die play with the tying or winning run attempting to score from third base. A poor throw to the plate will cause a run to score with no out recorded on the play. If the bases are loaded, the pitcher should throw the ball chest high to the catcher right over the plate. This will allow the catcher an easy ball to handle on the force out at the plate, along with his pivot toward first base to make the play on the batter-runner. The pitcher must step and throw with his arm up to insure the accuracy of his throw to the catcher. The closer he is to the catcher when he releases the ball, the softer the throw must be in order to allow the catcher ample time to pick up the flight of the ball. If the pitcher is moving toward the plate as he fields the ball, he can underhand flip the ball to the catcher. If the play at the plate is going to involve a tag play on the catcher's part, the pitcher will want to throw the ball at the catcher's left knee as he positions himself near the plate for the tag play.

19. Faking the throw to first base on a ball with no play at any base—There will be times when the pitcher will field a slow hit or bunted ball that will not allow him the opportunity to get an out at any base. With runners on base, the pitcher must fake the throw to first base in hopes that it might cause a runner at another base to take a wide turn anticipating the pitcher's throw to first base. Thus, once he fakes the throw to first base, he must quickly pivot in the direction of third base or second base with the thought in mind of making a throw to that base if the runner happens to be taking an aggressive turn.

20. Faking the catch of a bunted ball—With a runner at first base and less than two outs, the pitcher may be able to get a double play on a ball that is bunted to him in the air. Generally, the runner at first base will not break toward second base when he sees the ball in the air. If the pitcher catches the bail before it hits the ground, he must assume immediately that he will have a play at first base doubling up the runner off the base. With an intelligent runner at first base, this should not be the case. If the pitcher allows the ball to hit the ground, he will have a better chance to get the double play no matter how intelligent the runner at first base might be. Once the ball hits the ground, the pitcher should immediately field it and throw the ball to the first baseman at first base for the force out on the batter-runner. Hopefully, the runner at first base would not be advancing toward second base when he sees the bunted ball in the air with the pitcher in a position to make the catch. Once the first baseman receives the ball from the pitcher, he will touch first base for the force out on the batter-runner. He would then throw the ball to the shortstop at second base in hopes of retiring the runner who started out at first base. The shortstop would have to tag the runner coming from first base since the force out was eliminated when the first baseman touched first base retiring the batter-runner. The catcher might assist the pitcher in making the decision on whether to catch the ball in the air or allow it to hit the ground. If the catcher sees that the runner at first base has moved well away from first base on the play, he can yell "catch". The pitcher would then catch the ball in the air and throw the ball to the first baseman for the double play attempt. If the catcher sees the runner at first base reacting properly to the bunted ball in the air (stopping near his secondary lead), he can yell "let it hit" to the pitcher. The pitcher would then allow the ball to hit the ground. He would then field the ball properly and make a quick and accurate throw to the first baseman at first base. The first baseman would then complete the double play attempt with his throw to the shortstop at second base.

21. Covering first base on a ball hit to the right side of the infield—One of the most common defensive plays that directly involves the pitcher is those balls hit to the right side of the infield when he is responsible for covering first base. Of course, the quicker the pitcher can get to first base, the easier the play will be for him and the fielder who will be throwing the ball to him for the attempted play on the batter-runner. The pitcher can never afford to assume that the first baseman will be able to get back to first base to receive the throw from the second baseman. Once the first baseman starts movement to his right in hopes of fielding the ground ball, he is going to have a very tough play getting back to first base to receive the throw from the second baseman. This is especially true if the first baseman is playing off the base at the time of the pitch. Thus, the pitcher must break for first base on every ground ball hit to his left. Anytime the pitcher is moving toward first base on this play, and he sees that the first baseman is retreating to the base to field the throw from the second baseman, the pitcher must allow the first baseman to make the play. However, if he sees that the first baseman is going to have a difficult time getting back to first base, he should yell "I've got it" to the first baseman. This should prompt the first baseman to allow the pitcher to field the ball at the base from the second baseman. The same holds true on a ground ball hit to the first baseman with a runner at first base with less than two outs. If the first baseman throws the ball to the shortstop for the front end of an attempted double play, he will then break for first base for the return throw from the shortstop. If the pitcher sees that this will be a difficult play for the first baseman, he should yell "I've got it", and take responsibility of the bag for the throw from the shortstop.

22. Footwork at first base receiving a throw from the first baseman or second baseman—There are two methods that the pitcher can use in covering first base when receiving a throw from the first baseman or the second baseman in hopes of retiring the batter-runner:

A. Angling into the base—On a ball hit to the first baseman or second baseman that will be fielded by either one behind the baseline between first and second base, the pitcher should angle into the base to make the play. The pitcher will break off the mound full speed to a point adjacent to the first baseline approximately 10-12 feet from first base. He should be on the inside of the baseline at this point to avoid being run over by the batter-runner who will be running right down the line toward first base. Once he reaches this point he will stay on the inside running parallel to the line itself. At this time he will be preparing himself to catch the ball that will be thrown to him from the first baseman or the second baseman. He should do this by chopping his steps and slowing down to the point that he has his body under control to catch the thrown ball. Hopefully, the fielder will throw him the ball chest high or higher leading him in such a way that he can catch the ball about two steps before he touches the bag. If so, he will be in a position to watch the ball into his glove and then concentrate his attention on making proper contact with first base. The pitcher can not afford to catch the ball and then cross the bag into the path of the runner. He should attempt to hit the inside of first base with his right foot, and then get his body back under control so that he might be able to respond if a play develops at another base or home plate. If for some reason the pitcher gets to the bag ahead of the throw, he must stop at the bag and assume the responsibility of a first baseman. This happens generally as a result of the fielder booting the ball. The pitcher must be sure that he positions his feet so that they are not on top of the base, but at the same time, his feet must be in a position to contact the inner part of the base as he fields the throw. Most errors occur on this play when the pitcher takes his eyes off the ball in his attempt to touch first base. This is why it is so important that the first baseman or the second baseman lead the pitcher so that he can catch the ball about two steps away from the base.

B. Going directly toward the base—There will be balls hit to the right side of the infield that will necessitate the pitcher going directly to first base rather than angling into the bag as previously detailed. Anytime the first baseman will be fielding the ball in front of the baseline between first and second base, the pitcher should go directly to the base to prepare for the throw from the first baseman. This would also be the case if the ball gets by the first baseman and the second baseman would be fielding the ball in front of the baseline. The pitcher should also go directly to the bag at first base on the first-second-first double play ball. The reason for the pitcher going directly to the base is that there is no need for him to angle down the baseline due to the direction the ball will be coming to him at first base. It would also make for a very difficult play for the pitcher attempting to catch the ball coming toward him from behind his angle of approach to the base. He must break full speed directly toward first base in these types of plays. As he approaches the base he should start chopping his steps so that he can slow down in time to properly position himself to receive the throw from the fielder. He will now assume the responsibility of a first baseman as he positions his feet and body to receive the throw from either the first baseman, second baseman, or shortstop (3-6-1 double play). It would certainly not hurt the pitching staff to be aware of the shifting and stretching techniques used by the first baseman in receiving throws at first base. This information can be found in the infield section of the Playbook.

23. Covering home plate on a pass ball or wild pitch—Whenever there is a runner at third base and a pitched ball gets by the catcher, the pitcher must break full speed for the plate. This is also the case in those situations where the catcher is going after a fly ball that takes him away from the area of home plate with a runner tagging up at third base. As the pitcher gets near the plate, he should start slowing down by chopping his steps. He will want to position himself for the tag play at the plate so that he provides the runner with the outside half of the plate to slide into so that there is little chance for the pitcher to be involved in a collision with the runner. By straddling the inside half of the plate, he will be able to protect himself along with having a good opportunity to make a clean tag on the runner. As in all tag plays, he must look the ball into his glove and then make the tag. In this position, the pitcher will have to backhand the ball if the throw is coming to home plate from the first base side of the plate. The tag should be made, if at all possible, with the runner sliding into the back of the pitcher's glove so that there is little chance for the ball to be kicked out of the glove. At all times, the pitcher must protect his throwing hand from getting tangled up with the spikes of the sliding runner.

In earlier sections of the Playbook, the pitcher's defensive responsibilities dealing with the following situations were detailed: fly ball communication and priority system; backing up third base and home plate; bunt defense plays; and first and third double steal plays.




About the Article...

Legendary Mississippi State baseball coach Ron Polk, the winningest coach in any sport in the history of the Southeastern Conference, enters his third season as UAB's volunteer assistant coach in 2010. Polk came to UAB in the summer of 2008 after announcing his retirement from the Mississippi State program.

Polk has helped UAB to back-to-back winning seasons in his two years with the Blazers, including a 30-win campaign in 2009. He has helped the Blazers to victories in eight of 16 Conference USA series since his arrival, including 2009 series wins over both fourth-ranked Rice and eventual College World Series participant Southern Miss.

"It has been a personal highlight in life for me to be able to learn under Coach Polk in the 80's at Mississippi State and now work with him again at UAB," head coach Brian Shoop said. "I have more respect for Coach Polk than any coach in college baseball. No one has had more of an influence on our game and on countless young coaches, including myself. Our players love him and appreciate the sacrifices he makes to be involved with the UAB baseball program. We are better in so many ways because of Coach's decision to donate his time to Blazer baseball."

In July 2009, Polk was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1995. In 1988, he was presented with the Lefty Gomez Award, the highest award given by the ABCA.

Polk retired from Mississippi State in 2008, following his 29th season at the school. He ranks seventh all-time in NCAA career head coaching victories.

Polk concluded his 35-year career as a head coach with a career record of 1,373-700-2 (.662). In his career, which also included stints at Georgia Southern (1972-75) and Georgia (2000-01), Polk led his teams to a total of eight College World Series appearances, five SEC championships and 23 Regional appearances. He is one of only three coaches in college baseball history to take three different programs to the College World Series.

Polk mentored current UAB head coach Brian Shoop when the Blazer skipper was on his staff at Mississippi State from 1983-89. The Bulldogs won three SEC championships and made one trip to the College World Series during that time.

At Mississippi State, Polk recruited and coached some of the game's all-time greats, including Major League standouts Jeff Brantley, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen and Jonathan Papelbon. Those are just a few of the 185 of his former players that have signed professional contracts and a few of the 23 that have played in the Major Leagues.

A three-time National Coach of the Year, Polk held the position of Assistant Athletics Director for Special Projects at Mississippi State following his team's College World Series run in 1997. While in that position, Polk spearheaded a successful campaign to expand Polk-DeMent Stadium in Starkville. He returned to coaching at Georgia in 2000, where he spent two years before making the move back to Mississippi State for his final seven seasons.

Perhaps Polk's most talented Mississippi State squad ever was the 1985 version. That club finished the year 50-15 and was SEC champion before going on to appear in the College World Series. The 1985 Bulldog club featured future major league stars Brantley, Clark, Palmeiro and Thigpen.

In his 35 years as a college baseball coach, Polk produced 35 All-Americans and more than 75 All-SEC performers.

In addition to Polk's work in the collegiate ranks, the Boston, Mass., native has completed seven tours as a member of the coaching staff for the USA National Baseball Team, twice serving as head coach. Two of the teams he coached represented the United States in the Olympics.

Polk has also impacted the college baseball world through his literary work. He has authored "The Baseball Playbook," the nation's leading college textbook for baseball, and is featured in the book, "6 Psychological Factors for Success: America's Most Successful Coaches Reveal the Path to Competitive Excellence."

 

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