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Utilizing the DH in High School Baseball

The days of big-time designated hitters in the major leagues may be dying down, but managers are still finding ways to supplement for their lack of a David Ortiz or Edgar Martinez on their roster.

The dynamics are different in high school, where most leagues allow for a DH but an Ortiz- or Martinez-like slugger is even less common. Marshfield (Mass.) High School coach Billy Battis said the best approach is one that adapts to the needs of the team.

“Guys use it in a lot of different ways,” Battis said. “You want to get one of your better hitters in there. Maybe, he’s not a prime fielder, or (maybe he’s) a pitcher you want to hold out so he doesn’t have that extra strain on his body.”

At a level where the best athletes are still playing all over the field, it’s not always the pitcher who will be out of the lineup for the DH.

Coaches Toolkit by GameChanger

“In years past, we’ve DHed for anybody from our pitchers to our shortstops and our center fielders,” Battis said. “You try to fill out that nine-man hitting lineup as best as you can. And if that’s with a DH needing to hit for someone in that group, or if it’s just a straight nine you’re playing with.

By straight nine, Battis means having the pitcher hit.

“It’s great to play with a straight nine,” he said. “But if you have that guy who hasn’t won a spot defensively and you want his bat in the lineup, it’s great way to inject their bat into the lineup.”

Bettis said he expects to use the “P/DH” designation on his lineup card this season.

We see a lot of our pitchers hitting for us this year,” he said. “It’s different from year to year. No question about that. This looks to be a team where if our pitchers aren’t hitting, they’ll be playing the field somewhere. They’ll be seeing a lot of at-bats.” 

Even with pitchers hitting for themselves, the possibility still lurks of using the DH spot on the lineup card. Sometimes, it can help when a player is particularly one-dimensional — strong in the field but weak at the plate.

With only two or three games per week during the regular season on average, high school coaches don’t necessarily need to rest players as if they were playing a 162-game schedule.

For coaches who concern themselves with platoon splits, certainly right-handed bats versus left-handed bats can be a factor when selecting who to use to fill the gap.

There is the possibility of coaches keeping their pitchers out of the lineup altogether, especially on days when they throw. Some coaches prefer this, Bettis said, so the pitcher doesn't get injured at the plate or can focus solely on pitching, even if he is a capable hitter.

From GameChanger and Thomas Joyce. Photo by Mark Lamming.

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