While working with his pitchers, Savannah (Missouri) High School coach Erich Bodenhausen doesn’t often stress the importance of fielding.
That’s because he doesn’t have to, the skipper said.
“I don’t think I’ve had a single player that doesn’t understand that,” said Bodenhausen, who steered the Savages to three state playoff berths from 2011-13, including a runner-up finish in 2011. “They understand that fielding the ball is just as big a part of playing your position as pitching is.”
But that doesn’t mean Savannah — which fell in its district semifinals each of the past two springs — avoids working on this nuanced aspect of manning the mound. At least twice a week during the season, Bodenhausen puts his players through the three following drills, all aimed at preparing his hurlers for whatever comes at them — or to their left or right.
Three pitchers stand on the hill: one in the center, one to each side. The pitcher on the first base side practices covering first, the middle pitcher works on turning a double play with the shortstop or second baseman, and the players on the third base side fields bunts and throws to third base.
Then the staff will switch things up; fielding bunts on the opposite side of the mound, turning a 3-6-1 double play, pick-offs and so forth. When the drill is done, each pitcher has gone through just about every ball-in-play scenario imaginable.
Another key component of Savage’s practices and warm-ups is the simple 15-out drill, where a coach hits ground and fly balls to a full nine-man defense. Only, instead of just standing off to the side, Savannah’s pitchers line up behind the L-screen and field balls and cover bases as each swing requires.
“It’s a lot better than just having them stand on the mound staring,” Bodenhausen said.
And when the full field isn’t available or Savannah’s arms just need some extra fielding work, Bodenhausen dumbs it down even further. The pitchers stand in a line and field balls one by one.
They’re all used to this, of course. As with most prep squads, it’s rare that a Savannah pitcher will not also have a primary fielding position when not on the mound.
“They all grew up playing pretty much every (position),” Bodenhausen said. “Each guy knows he’s just as responsible for helping himself after he makes a pitch and not just leaving it up to the guys behind him.”