Utilizing situational hitting to improve fielding, baserunning
How many times in a close game have you had a runner make a mistake on the bases that might have cost you a big inning?
We always get upset by such things and wonder what they are thinking and what we could do about it. Our first thought: Have we been giving our courtesy runners and pinch runners the amount of practice they need in such situations?At Rogers H.S., we believe that we are going to win most one-run games by covering all our bases with all of our players.
One way we do this is by implementing our multi-situational hitting drill – a device that has greatly helped to improve our baserunning, bunt coverages, relays, and quick decision making in the field. At the same time, it has given us a chance to work on the little things that win tightly contested games.
It has also helped our entire team develop a confident attitude about running the bases – giving us a chance to use all the players we need to get the job done.
Our pinch runners enter the game ready and confident to keep our speed and pressure on the defense at all times. At the same time, it allows a “defensive player” to come into the game in the late innings and get a chance to get some extra defensive work in.
Several times during the last few years, we have used up to 20 players in a game – players who understand that just because they don’t start doesn’t mean they can’t help us win. To give you an example, we used 17 players in our state semi-final against Blanco H.S. and 15 against Hooks High in the state championship game last season.
The organization of the drill begins with a complete lineup in the field, with a coach throwing batting practice from behind a screen, and two other coaches at 1st base and 3rd base. The batting practice coach is assigned to coach the fielders on key situations and decision making. The base coaches work with the runners and the hitters on the specific points we want emphasized.
I feel that we get a lot of “finer point” coaching during this drill. I believe it is awesome to see three coaches talking and teaching at one time. In addition, any coach can stop the whole drill at any time to stress something he sees that we want all of them to understand.
We can use our JV team in the field and our varsity to hit or vice versa. We use six hitters in a group. Our other players hit in the cage and then switch to the field after all six hit and run the bases.
Our JV coach moves his JV fielders around as he would in a game in which he switches pitchers. This has really helped the JV defense.
The backbone of this drill was shown to me by Chris Carter, my key assistant in 1997. It has been modified and added to many times with the help of my current assistant coaches, John Reason and Nash Fares.
Here are the specifics of what we do and what we want to accomplish:
Sacrifice to 2nd. Runner at first takes lead, batter sacrifices him to second. Key: Work on reading the bunt and proper footwork for getting back to 1st if the pitch is not bunted.
The 1st base coach eyes the runner, the 3rd base coach the bunter. Corrections are made if needed. If the ball is bunted properly, bunt coverage is executed by the defense. The batting practice coach makes sure the defense is reacting properly on the bunt coverage. (Good bunt – The batter gets one more pitch to take a normal batting practice swing while the runner jogs back to first.)
Hit and Run. Runner takes lead and executes hit-and-run. Key: Check halfway if ball has been hit. No contact turns into a steal, and the catcher practices his throw to 2nd base. Contact creates listening and vision reactions by the runner on where the ball is going and possibly “back” call by the 1st base coach on a pop-up.
If the runner sees the ball in play, he picks up the 3rd base coach for the sign to hold at 2nd or come on to 3rd. The defense gets great work on this drill, especially on ground balls where communication of going to 1st instead of 2nd is needed.
Also, relay communication is practiced on whether to throw through at the runner going to 3rd or cut and keep the guy at 1st. (Once again if the play is executed properly by the hitter, he gets an extra BP cut while the runner repositions himself at 2nd.)
Sacrifice to 3rd. Runner takes lead at 2nd, batter bunts him to 3rd. Key: We want to bunt the ball away from a fielder charging. Once again, runner concentrates on reading the bunt. Over the last four years this part of the game has been very beneficial to us. We believe if we can get a runner to third with one out or less we are going to score him.
Defense practices the bunt coverage for this situation. Many errors have occurred with the 2nd baseman racing to cover 1st base. We are going to work hard on getting the out at first to stay out of the big inning. We sometimes cheat our 2nd baseman towards 1st base. (Proper execution – extra BP cut.)
Score the Runner From 2nd. Some people teach hitting behind the runner at 2nd. With no outs, we are going to try to score him. We want our players to be aggressive and not waste any concentration trying to go to the right side. That is just our approach.
Key: Runner has to make good decisions while eyeing the ball and picking up his 3rd base coach on whether to score, hold, tag-up, or stop at 3rd. Our 3rd base coach is constantly reminding our runners at 2nd to see the ball through in front of them and to freeze on a line drive. Your defense gets to work on looking runners back on ground balls and executing relays to the proper bases on balls to the outfield.
This has helped our decision-making at 2nd base while also giving us a chance to work on making good turns at 3rd with the ability to be held up late. (A successful base hit gives the batter two extra BP cuts while the runner regroups at 3rd.)
Score the Runner From 3rd. This is a major one for us. We never want to run into an out at home plate or miss a chance to score. The batter is told to treat the situation as though there was one out. Since we see a lot of corners up, middle infielders back during the year, we stress middle hitting. Key: The runners get to work on (1) tagging up and listening to “go” on fly balls; (2) breaking to the plate on a ball hit at an infielder that is back; (3) freezing on a line drive; (4) holding up on a ball back to the pitcher or any infielders that are playing up.
We feel this drill conditions the runner’s quick reactions to score or hold. We have gotten great mileage out of it. One thing we coach at 3rd is to not stray too far off the bag with your secondary lead. We want the runner to be able to tag quickly on fly balls. The drill allows your infielders a chance to work on playing up to choke off a run, playing halfway, and looking runners back on fielded balls before going to 1st. (Successfully scoring the runner gives two extra BP cuts.)
Squeeze Him Home From 3rd. Though we have not been a major squeeze team, there are situations when we must use it against a good pitcher. We stress that the first few steps look like the normal secondary lead and when the hands break we go to the plate.
Run Out Your Last Pitch. We want the runner to work on getting out of the box and down the line. Turn every single into a double if possible. A ball in the gap and the runner thinks three bases. This will allow our fielders to work on getting the ball back in and working our double-cut communications.
To create more situations, you can add extra runners to create multiple baserunning instruction at any time.
This has given us better baserunning instincts while allowing us to work on defense at the same time. It also gives us the ability to get more kids involved in “live” practice, while creating game-like situations to react to. Don’t assume a player is going to be a good baserunner because he is fast. Train him to be one.
The first few times you use the drill it will take some time to explain what is going on and what you want to achieve. But as the kids get accustomed to it, they will move around quickly and know what to do. The hitter goes to 1st base to start the drill over after Situation 7.
In closing, we recruit kids to be only courtesy runners. They take great pride in doing this. It has given us an added weapon, while getting our pitchers and catchers off the bases.
I do not want my ace pitcher sliding. All of our back-up position players can be called on during a game to pinch run for a slower kid.
If the game is on the line and we need more speed, we are going to get it off the bench, get it in the game, and feel confident we have covered all our bases.
I hope something in all of this will help you win a game.