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Executing the Successful Double Play

The art of getting two outs on one play is a double-edged sword. It can be a pitcher’s best friend, getting him out of a jam when the opposition is poised to knock him out of the game. It can also be an offense’s worst nightmare, killing a potential rally and changing momentum.

Turning a successful double play involves more than simply practicing the fundamental elements; it takes solid communication with your fielders, says Jason Marshall, baseball coach for the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“This may be becoming a lost art, but if kids ever have a chance to go watch (a professional or college team), watching the synchronicity of infielders is one of the beautiful parts of baseball,” Marshall said. “Just seeing how the players communicate and almost know each other so well. If you don’t know the game, you maybe don’t see it. But if you do, it’s a work of art.”

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For example, a good second baseman will convey to the third baseman and shortstop where he wants the feed, whether it’s to his left shoulder or a specific location on the bag. If he doesn’t get a throw in the preferred spot, the chances of successfully completing a double play are diminished. “I know that takes a pretty good (infielder) to put the ball there,” Marshall explained. “But that’s what good shortstops and third basemen do. They can throw the ball to a spot over and over again.”

Securing the lead out is an essential factor as well, Marshall says. At first, this may seem to go against executing a double play. But if keeping crooked numbers off the scoreboard is your goal (and it should be), make sure you get at least one out if a ground ball is hit to any of the infield spots with a runner on first with less than two outs. This is especially true if the ball takes the shortstop or second baseman away from second base; it creates a longer throw. That throw, or feed, should be made above the belt line to create the easiest play possible for getting the first out.

Many infielders take themselves out of making double plays by not being in proper positions. The ideal spot is what Marshall refers to as two steps in and two steps toward the bag.

“You just go from your normal depth position and go two big steps toward home plate, then two steps toward second base,” he explained. “That would be a good rule of thumb to position yourself to cut that distance down. Being able to shrink that distance down is important, especially for the middle infielder.”

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Even pitchers can help increase the chances of getting a double play ball. Marshall recommends executing a good pitch down in the strike zone, at knee level. Hitters have a difficult time lifting a baseball into the air; throwing a pitch at that height gives the defense a better chance at turning a double play.

Most infielders know they have four seconds or less to have a chance of getting two outs. Having that mental clock can sometimes result in rushing a throw, but Marshall believes arm strength can also be a factor in making a poor throw.

“I think some guys are rushing a throw because they know they’ve got to get the ball there based off their own abilities,” he said. “That may be a reason you’re cheating the body, leaving the arm behind you instead of trusting your feet and your hands to make that play happen for you.”

Marshall likes to have his players play catch for up to 10 minutes before practice. The final two minutes are spent on quick hand, short-hop, and other drills that help fielders execute movements used in double plays. Once defensive work begins, fielders work on different feeds. One drill is to have players put the ball in their glove as if they’ve made a catch, such as a routine grounder, a ball two steps to the right, a grounder three steps in front of him, etc. They then practice cutting down distance as fast as possible and flipping underhand to second or first. A coach can then repeat the sequence by rolling the ball to each player, followed by hitting similar balls with a bat. The idea is to condition the mind into knowing what your body needs to do to make a throw, no matter where you’re positioned.

“There’s a progression of learning to play the game at the speed that you’re going to have to play it on a game day,” Marshall said. “Once a kid understands and knows the mechanics, there’s nothing that can replace game speed repetition.”

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr. Photo courtesy of Jeff Huehn Photography/UTSA Athletics.

Baseball, Baseball Tips & Drills

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