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October 2, 2009 • Baseball

Infield Drill Series With Winning Reps

With fall baseball season just around the corner, I would like to share some of the things we do at Rogers H.S., particularly in the way we challenge defensive situations.

We make a concentrated effort to practice the multiple things that can make or break us in a tightly contested game, and how we try to contain a dominant pitcher by keeping ourselves in the game with good defense. That becomes our first and foremost priority every day in practice.

Our hitting and offensive game, though equally important, comes second.

Everyone loves BP, so we get the defense done first and use the hitting on the field as a reward for great concentration during defensive drills.

Our motto always has been, “If we can keep ourselves in the game by staying out of the big inning, we will find a way to win at the plate.” Our players have bought into that philosophy. Since we have had very young teams over the past two years, good defense was essential until we improved at the plate.

We begin practice with routine defensive work and then move into the specifics, making our players aware of how important defense is in winning those close games.

Just like everyone else, we are always working and always talking to the great coaches over the past 17 years. We beg, borrow, and steal ideas and then try and mold them into our style of play. They helped us win 73 games over the last three years.

Following are some of the defensive drills and strategies we use in practice:

1. Involve your other coaches to help.

With only two coaches on our staff, we get stretched pretty thin. We want our JV coach to spend quality time with our JV kids in the cage. To avoid having kids standing around, we invite one of the football-track coaches to open practice by helping the infield-outfield begin the day. This gives the non-baseball coach a chance to be around the baseball kids outside of the weight room or track, also allows our main JV coach to spend quality time with his kids in the cages working on their hitting.

2. Defensive Drills we stress and practice throughout the week.

Fly ball, ground ball basics time: I usually stand just in front of the third-base dugout and lay out 50-60 balls to hit to our outfielders.

The centerfielder takes a tall bucket out with him. All throws go to him. This gives the outfielders a more realistic, long “fly ball” look. Our other volunteer coach hits ground balls to the infielders at the same time. I am actually hitting fly balls over the infielders’ heads while they are taking grounders.

The first time I did this, our infielders thought I was crazy. But we learned to take the players out of the line of fire.

I now hit each outfielder 4-or-5 balls, go to the next one, and work the ball all over the outfield.

They get high ones, short ones, balls in the gaps, etc. This allows all the outfielders to get realistic looks. We also work two adjacent outfielders together for communication practice.

All throws are fired like a relay to the centerfielder who puts them in the bucket. When I’m out of balls, they run the bucket in. We move the bucket around each time it comes in to create different throws.

There are several ways I think this has made us better: (1) more realistic balls they have to chase down; (2) work on angles, getting back and going up; (3) relay and throwing practice to strengthen the arm; (4) communication; (5) repetition.

While the outfielders are working, the infielders are getting multiple ground balls. We believe the more reps the better. It has allowed us to have our entire varsity and better JV players on the field at the same time. Things the infielders will work on with our volunteer coach are:

1. Normal shots at them.

2. Slow rollers.

3. Backhand plays.

4. Forehand plays.

We want them to take as many repetitions as possible, just like the outfielders.

Their speciality work comes after the fly-ball period is done. We believe in repetition, repetition, and repetition. One back-hand out a game might be the difference in a 4-3 game or it might “get you out of a big inning.” We believe that a winning practice wins games.

Game situation relays:

The next thing we do is go through our normal routine relays to the bases.

1. Throw out at 2nd.

2. Throw out at 3rd.

3. Throw out at home.

We try to do a cut-throw and a one-bounce throw. The second time around we give each outfielder one chance to throw out the guy out without the benefit of the cut-off man. They each get one chance. It makes them concentrate as if it were a game-winning situation.

Something we do to keep the 1st baseman busy until we need him for the relays to home plate is to have our second coach make low throws for him to dig out of the dirt at 1st. High and wide balls are also thrown to work on the sweep tag.

One item we stress that has greatly helped us is working hard on our double cuts. We believe that if you can throw a runner out at 3rd or home, you can deflate an opponent’s chance at a big inning. We end the relay sessions with double cuts to the plate. The double cuts we practice include:

1. Throwing a guy out at 3rd base (from both power alleys).

2. Throwing a guy out at home (from both power alleys).

3. Cutting and running the ball in (call from 3rd baseman).

4. Throwing behind the runner at 2nd base.

Things we stress are:

1. The two infielders going out should be about 30 feet apart.

2. We are going to double cut any ball to the wall.

3. If the throw is low to the 1st man, let it go and have the 2nd cut-man catch it on the bounce.

4. As the ball is approaching you “listen” for the command of what to do with it.

After these situations, the guys who just play outfield go and hit with the JV. The outfielders who pitch or play infield go to infield practice.

Infield basics:

If we have a Tuesday district game, our Monday infield session will be long. On Friday district games, we usually split this into two sessions over Wednesday and Thursday. Things we are going to cover and emphasize are:

1. Footwork on getting to all ground balls and throw-outs at 1st base.

2. Pick up all bobbled and knocked down grounders with your throwing hand.

3. Don’t rush the first out on double plays. You have to get the first one.

4. Walk your fielding tee and being ready to bounce in any direction.

We feel this has eliminated some errors over the course of a season. One lazy play could be the difference in winning and losing.

Specific situations all infielders practice (everyone is involved in something).

Period one:

Double-Play Initiation. The SS-2B will drill short-tosses and throws to begin a double play. The coach stands right behind the mound and throws the ground ball to initiate the play. We use multiple reps and move the ball around

Meanwhile, our other coach works the 1st and 3rd baseman on outs at 1st. We use normal grounders, bunts, and dribblers. The back-up 1st baseman will take the throw when the other 1st baseman is fielding a dribbler.

If we need extra time with SS and 2B, the catcher will work on receiving a throw from 3rd and going to 1st for a double play.

Period two:

1. 2nd baseman and 1st baseman play up and they take normal fungo throwing to home for an out. We again mix in the 2nd to home to 1st double play throw.

2. The 3rd baseman fields tosses from a coach throwing to 2nd to initiate a double play.

Period three:

1. 2nd baseman takes ground ball tosses from the coach and throws to 1st. They also take short tosses from the coach near 2nd to make their throw on a double play.

2. Meanwhile, the 3rd baseman and SS play up to fielding fungos and throwing outs to the plate.

Period four:

1. 1st baseman fields ground balls with the pitchers covering 1st.

2. The catchers work on throwing to 2nd and 3rd base as if we had a runner stealing.

Period five:

1. 1st Baseman fields balls and throws to the SS covering 2nd to initiate a double play with the 2nd baseman running to cover 1st.

2. The catcher works on receiving a pitch and throwing to 3rd in an attempt to pick the runner off whenever he has too big a lead.

Note: We have our pitchers throwing to 2nd to initiate a double play during our bunt phase drill.

Period six:

1. Bunt coverages with runner on 1st.

2. Bunt coverages with runner on 2nd.

3. Bunt coverages if we “have to have an out” at 2nd.

4. Bunt vs. the squeeze.

Getting an out in the bunting game goes along with our philosophy of “staying out of the big inning.”

The 2A State Championship game last year was turned around on a bunt that was misplayed. Don’t neglect this phase of the game.

In addition to this, we also have your normal two-coach fungo one day a week.

Defending the baserunning pressure situations:

As mentioned before, our catchers throw to the bags while we are in situation work. Next, we work on these baserunning specifics that can cause

1. 1st-3rd Situation:

  • We will have a play where we throw the guy out at 2nd.
  • We will have a play where we throw to 3rd.
  • We will have a play where we cut the ball.

Each of these is done with several repetitions. This is a phase we work on the day before every game. We practice taking a silent signal from the dugout.

2. The Walk-Off play:

A. We will use the JV and our outfielders to help us with this situation. We feel that if you practice keeping your cool, you can get the guy at 3rd.

B. We want our 1st baseman to call “walk-off” to put our play into action. The one item we stress is never to let the 1st baseman get caught chasing the runner to 2nd. We want our 2nd baseman with the ball “walking the runner” back to first with the 3rd baseman keeping an eye on the runner at third. We would prefer to get him hung up.

C. To keep them guessing, we will also fake the throw to the 2nd baseman and go for a quick throw at the guy at third. This one works well.

Don’t let those routine pop-ups beat you:

Every week we end one of our infield sessions with pop-ups. We do not assume that high school players are going to make these. We work at it. We love to save this one for a windy day. Once again, one misplayed pop-up can get you beat.

1. We try to hit infield pop-ups all over the diamond at least once a week. We discuss areas that are problems and try to get our best athletes on these balls. For example, hitting the ball in shallow right behind the 1st baseman. We want our 2nd baseman to get out there and get it. Same behind 3rd with the shortstop. Same behind 2nd with the CF, 2B and SS.

2. Communication is the key. We also incorporate our outfielders for these drills after the infielders have fielded some.

In closing, there are many more situations that need work during the year like rundowns, backing up bases, pickoffs, catcher’s blocking, playing balls in the sun and more. But these are just some of the basics that we have chosen to drill on hard before every game.

We believe it has helped us. The main thing we want is all of our players moving and getting great work. We want to give ourselves a chance to win every game. I hope something in here can help you.

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