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Fastpitch Tip: Using The Pitcher As A Fielder
Many coaches and players often think that once a pitcher delivers the pitch, her job is finished. They believe that it is someone else's job to "make the play."
As a coach, I feel that the complete opposite is true. A good fielding pitcher can go a long way toward determining how good a team's defensive unit is.
At Oconee County, we have been fortunate enough to have had pitchers who were good fielders. As a result, our pitchers have helped the team (and themselves) time and again on defense. If a pitcher is not a proficient fielder or as good a fielder as you would like, you may have to find time away from the normal practice setting to work on her weaknesses. This could be before or after a normal practice or even something to pinpoint in your preseason or out of season workouts.
In what ways can a pitcher help a team defensively? The first is by acting as another infielder in bunt situations. I, as well as many coaches, have been in situations where we prayed that the first or third baseman fielded the bunt instead of the pitcher. Think of the advantages of having a third fielder, the pitcher, who could make the throw to a particular base.
Another way the pitcher can improve a defense is be serving as another middle infielder. If the pitcher can handle most one-hoppers, high choppers or even soft line drives back through the middle, she can be a defensive asset. This may allow you to play the shortstop and second baseman a step or two closer to the third and first base holes, respectively. You will also be surprised how often a pitcher who is a good defender will snag a well-struck ball that has base hit written all over it and turn it into a routine out or better yet into a 1-6-3 double play.
The third way a pitcher can help a team defensively is in cutoff situations from outfield throws. We have our pitcher act as the cutoff person on all throws from the outfield toward home. This is true whether it is a fly ball and the runner is tagging from third base or if it is a base hit and the runner is attempting to score from second.
The first question I usually get after making this statement is, "Who is backing up home plate in case of an overthrow or a bad throw?" My answer is that the fields we play on normally have backstops close enough so that the bad throw is not going very far anyway. And on most overthrows the runners are going to advance a base no matter how well the play is backed up. When a ball is hit to the left field side of second base, our first baseman will try to get in a backup position. When the ball is hit, the pitcher is already closer than anyone else to being in a cutoff position. She is also a natural target and it allows the infielders to cover bases or cut in other positions. We have had a lot of success using our pitcher in this manner once she and the rest of the defense get accustomed to doing things this way.
These are just three ways that a pitcher can help a team be successful defensively by being a good and proficient fielder. This will also allow you as a coach to be more diverse with your calls and coverages in certain defensive sitations.