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Five Drills to Hone Your Pitchers' Defense

While throwing strikes is a pitcher’s main concern, it takes more to make a complete pitcher. At times, some coaches overlook the importance of having a sound defensive pitcher who can make routine plays and avoid mental errors. For any coaches looking for a few pitchers’ fielding practice (PFP) drills for their pitchers, Swansea (Massachusetts) Little League coach Michael Hughes has five that he swears by.

Stop the Bunt

Equipment: Baseball, gloves (Optional: stop watch)

Setup: The pitcher needs to be ready on the mound. There should also be a coach in the batter’s box, a catcher behind the plate, and a first baseman manning the bag.

How to: Have your pitcher throw a pitch. When it’s caught, the coach will roll a ball to one of three areas: down the first base line, down the third base line or by the pitcher’s mound. The pitcher will then throw to first base to record the “out.” Often times, teams do this drill with multiple pitchers standing in line behind one another to get everyone reps. More advanced teams can use different colored baseballs to show which base the pitcher is supposed to throw to.

Coach’s Input: “It’s a nice way to get our guys some reps against bunts. You can keep them thinking too, since they don’t know where I’m going to put the ball. We like to stress proper footwork on this drill here and try to go full speed to simulate live game action. Sometimes, we even have someone with a stopwatch seeing how long it takes these guys to field them.”

Who’s on First?

Equipment: Baseball, bat, glove

Setup: The pitcher should be on the mound, a catcher should be behind home plate, a first baseman should be in his normal fielding position, and there should be a coach in the batter’s box.

How to: The pitcher should throw a pitch, per usual, and the coach will then either hit or roll a ground ball down the first base side for the first baseman to field. While the first baseman is going for the ball, the pitcher should head to first base to cover the bag for his teammate and be ready to receive the flip or throw. Again, there could be a line with multiple pitchers (and first basemen) for this drill.

Coach’s Input: “There’s a lot of good things that come from this one. Most importantly, you’ve got these guys communicating and playing heads up baseball. The pitcher has to know what’s going on around him and has to stay upright and balanced if he’s going to field the ball. Footwork and reaction time should improve from this one.”

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Equipment: Baseballs (lots of them), bat, gloves (for several fielders), at least three buckets (to collect baseballs at each respective base)

Setup: Three pitchers should be lined up from left to right, with one being on the mound and the others being to his left and right, respectively. There should also be a complete infield and two coaches near the batter’s boxes to put coordinate the drills. Baserunners are optional.

How to: The coaches must be precise with this drill, as each spot has a different responsibility. First, a coach will hit a ball to the first baseman so the pitcher on the first base side will need to cover the bag. The pitcher in the middle will receive a comebacker (not too hard) and turn a double play. The pitcher nearest third base fields a bunt and tries to throw out a runner (real or imaginary) at third. The pitchers rotate through their line after all three have gone at their respective spot.

Coach’s Input: “It’s a little bit of everything for these guys, and it helps that they have to somewhat think about what they’re doing with the ball. You always want your guys to be alert out there and communicating with their team but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.”

Out Goes the Runner

Equipment: Baseballs (lots of them), gloves, buckets (near each base)

Setup: A few pitchers should be lined up to go after the next pitcher. Most likely, they should be well in front of the pitcher’s mound. There should also be a full infield (except a catcher). Some teams even use base runners to make it more authentic.

How to: Before he steps off the mound to give the next pitcher a turn, the pitcher will throw to each base once. Pitchers will start from the stretch, look at first base and either pivot or make a jump throw to the bag. When they are set with a new ball, they will check second and then either use a reverse pivot and throw to the shortstop or spin and throw to the second baseman. For righties, the third base throw should be done quick, perhaps with a 45 degree angle step when set to pitch. And for lefties, it would be the nearly the same as a righty throwing to first.

Coach’s Input: “You want to get everyone reps, but there’s just so much to work on, so this really condenses time for us and allows us to work on those pickoff moves. Our coaches watch the guys closely and help them with their technique so we can get some ‘free outs’ during games.”

Stop the Runner

Equipment: Baseballs, gloves

Setup: A pitcher should be on the mound and a fielder should be near the backstop. Another player or coach should be to the right or to the left of the pitcher. There can even be a line of pitchers rotating to make sure several players get reps. To more closely replicate a real-game situation, place a base runner on third trying to score a run.

How to: Instead of the pitcher throwing, the player/coach to his side will throw or roll a ball erratically past home plate and near the backstop. The thrower yells “go” after the ball whizzes by home plate, which is an indication for the pitcher to take off and try covering home plate. The fielder near the backstop will make a throw to the pitcher, who makes his best effort to cover home plate and tag a runner out/prevent a runner from going.

Coach’s Input: “You want to make sure your pitcher can cover home plate on a passed ball, but you don’t want him practicing by throwing bad pitches. These plays are really important too because we’re not talking about the difference between a guy being on first and second. This is a run or an out. You’ve got to make sure your guys can do it, and practice makes perfect, as they say.”

From GameChanger and Tom Joyce.

Baseball, Baseball Tips & Drills