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Brentwood Travel Baseball Inc.
Tom O'Hara
Fax: 631-435-2187
PO Box 174
Brentwood, New York
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Lessons to play by
Lesson Number One

BUNT DEFENSE: RUNNERS ON FIRST AND SECOND BASE
INTRODUCTION -
This is one of the most difficult situations to defend at all levels of baseball. It ranks along with the first and third double steal situation in degree of difficulty.

Many coaches have reconciled themselves to the fact that the only safe method of defense is to retire the runner at first base. Getting "one out for sure" in this situation is a must; however, if the defense is played correctly the runner attempting to advance from second to third base can be put out a percentage of the time preventing needless runs from scoring. By conceding the runners second and third base in this situation, the defense is faced with additional problems.

1.      With runners on second and third, the defense now has to decide whether to play a deep or shallow infield. Playing deep automatically concedes a run if the ball is hit on the ground, particularly to the shortstop or to second base.

2.      2. Playing a close or shallow infield doubles the hitter's chances of getting a base hit and scoring two runs.

3.      3. Walking the hitter and filling the bases in hopes of making the double play is also an option not without its risks.

Other coaches have resorted to bizarre defenses, which can only be effective as elements of surprise, or used in isolated instances. Most of these defenses have so many weaknesses that they cannot be relied upon game after game.

Because many low-scoring games are played each season, the inability to defense the bunt successfully causes many runs to score, which could make the difference between a winning and losing season.

An OVERALL VIEW of team defensive responsibilities in this situation is as follows:

I.                     The CATCHER covers the area in front of the homeplate;

II.                   The PITCHER covers the area from the mound to the third base line;

III.                  The FIRST BASEMAN covers the area from the first base line to the mound;

IV.               The SECOND BASEMAN covers first base;

V.                The SHORTSTOP covers second base;

VI.               The THIRD BASEMAN should protect against the hard bunt, and then cover third base;

VII.             The OUTFIELDERS should back up the bases.

I. THE CATCHER -

A.    The CATCHER is responsible for the area in front of home plate.

B.    The CATCHER must direct the defense verbally.

C.    The CATCHER must be alert for the force-out at third base whenever he fields the bunt.

D.    The CATCHER does not cover third base when the third basemen fields the ball.

E.    The CATCHER and SHORTSTOP must have an understanding that the possibility of a pick-off exists at second base anytime the hitter misses the ball or takes a pitch. The CATCHER must be in position to throw after every pitch.

1.      A prearranged pick-off play originating from a pitch-out is an excellent play because many runners take a crossover step before the ball is bunted.

2.      Throwing to second base when the runner is caught too far off base can be dangerous. An alert runner on second base may advance to third base while the throw is made behind him. If the runner is too far off base the CATCHER should "run right at the runner" and force him to commit to one base or the other and when he does…throw him out.

3.      The CATCHER and SECOND BASEMAN should have a pick-off play at first base with the second baseman sneaking in behind the runner at first base to receive the throw and make the tag.

a.      The pick-off play at first base is also quite effective because the runner at first is not held tightly to the base and the first baseman plays off the base and in front of the runner.

b.      This is a prearranged play originating from a pitch-out.

c.      Throwing to first base has certain inherent dangers. An alert runner on second base may advance to third base while the throw is being made behind him…to first base.

II. The Pitcher -

A.    After determining that the hitter intends to bunt, the PITCHER should rely primarily upon the high fast ball.

B.    In order for the put out to be successful at third base, it is imperative that the PITCHER hold the runner close to second base.

C.    The PITCHER can help his own cause by stepping off the rubber whenever the runner has too big a lead (a movement which tends to intimidate the runner.)

D.    By not delivering to the plate until the runner has transferred his weight toward second base, or is leaning, or moving in the direction of second base, the chances of throwing the base runner being thrown out at third base are greatly enhanced.

E.    The pick-off play…PITCHER to SHORTSTOP and PITCHER TO SECOND BASEMAN will also keep the runner honest.

F.    Once the pitch is made, the PITCHER should hold his position for a split second and then run directly toward the third base line. This places him about halfway between home and third base.

G.    As soon as the PITCHER is certain he can field the ball, he yells out "I've got it." This helps the third baseman make his decision to return to third base if he knows the PITCHER can make the play.

1.      Upon fielding the ball, the right-hander turns in a counterclockwise direction toward third base…follows his glove!

2.       When fielding the bunt the PITCHER must be sure to bend his knees and lower his center of gravity, by keeping his "bottom" low to the ground, before attempting to field the ball…do not attempt to field the ball standing up!

3.      Field low and "COME UP THROWING!"

4.      The left-hander would make a quarter turn clockwise toward third base.

5.      The PITCHER should "COME UP THROWING" using a sidearm/three-quarter throw.

6.      The advantage of the sidearm/three-quarter throw is that the receiver is only fooled on one plane…horizontally, if the throw is slightly errant!

H. If the third baseman calls for the ball, the PITCHER must allow him to make the play and get out of the way…continue on into foul territory.

III. First Baseman -

A.    When the FIRST BASEMAN is certain that the hitter intends to bunt, his position is halfway between first base and the mound.

B.    If the FIRST BASEMAN is unsure about the bunt, or a strong left hand hitter is at bat; he plays on the edge of the grass and creeps forward as the hitter turns to bunt.

C.    The FIRST BASEMAN is responsible for all bunts in the area between the first base foul line and the mound.

D.    The FIRST BASEMAN should assume a trackman's stance, which will facilitate his start. He should use the chop step footwork to maintain his lateral movement as the ball is bunted.

E.    Hard bunts that are fielded cleanly should be thrown to third base with a sidearm/three-quarter throw (COME UP THROWING.) Slowly hit or bobbled balls should be thrown to first base.

IV. Second Baseman -

A.    The SECOND BASEMAN'S chief responsibility in this situation is to cover first base.

B.    The SECOND BASEMAN must cheat toward first base, but he must also protect his position first against the slap bunt or batted balls by taking two steps directly toward the batter before evacuating his position.

C.    The pick-off play at first is an always-present defensive counter.

1.      The runner is lulled into a sense of false security because he is not being held tightly to the base;

2.      The base coach is often watching the hitter rather than the SECOND BASEMAN.

D. In the event of a pick-off attempt, the SECOND BASEMAN approaches first base, in an arcing manner, from the outfield side of the base.

1.      He stands behind the base facing the catcher.

2.      This enables him to maintain his lateral movement should the throw be inaccurate.

3.      When the SECOND BASEMAN determines that the throw is accurate, he steps across the base with his left foot, receives the catcher's throw, and makes the tag.

V. Shortstop -

A. The SHORTSTOP'S primary responsibility is that of holding the runner close to second base.

1.      If he fails to do this, there is very little chance that the defense will succeed.

2.      It is not necessary for the runner to be driven back to the base, although this would be ideal.

3.      Merely getting the runner to move, lean, or transfer his weight toward second base, will decrease the runner's chances of reaching third base safely.

B. The SHORTSTOP plays behind the runner and off his left shoulder.

C. The SHORTSTOP'S right foot should be in line with the runner's left foot.

1.      This places him in an excellent position to harass the runner, who must remain constantly aware of the SHORTSTOP'S presence.

2.      From this position, the pick-off play can be used effectively…playing outside the runner makes the pick-off play from the pitcher virtually impossible.

D. When attempting to hold the runner at second base, it is important that the SHORTSTOP does not fake too soon.

1.      Faking too soon allows the runner time to regain his balance and lead, making the fake of little value.

2.      This very common mistake renders the fake useless. As the runner will reestablish his initial leadoff and have his momentum going toward third base.

E. As the pitcher comes to his set position, the harassment and faking should begin.

1.      An effective and simple method of getting the runner to lean or transfer his weight toward second base is to have the SHORTSTOP play immediately behind the runner. (SHORTSTOP'S right foot in line with runner's left foot.) Using an anchored right foot and simultaneously stomping his left foot, slapping his glove and yelling BACK! BACK! will force the base runner to react…The pitcher should deliver the ball at this time.

2.      Another method, similar to the above but involving more timing, is to place the SHORTSTOP six to eight feet behind the runner (SHORTSTOP'S right foot in line with runner's left foot.) The SHORTSTOP should take a left, right step directly toward the runner then simultaneously make a hard jab step toward second base with his left foot, slap his glove and yell BACK! BACK!…This method enhances the PITCHER/SHORTSTOP pick-off play because the runner and base coach become conditioned to the SHORTSTOP'S movement and will concede the SHORTSTOP'S first two steps, consequently they are often slow to respond in the event a pick-off is attempted.

3.      In either method, if the runner at second base has too big a lead, or has his weight leaning toward third base, the SHORTSTOP flashes an open glove with his arm extended (this is an automatic pick-off sign to the pitcher.) The SHORTSTOP then continues on to second base to receive the pick-off throw from the pitcher.

4.      There are many others, but the key is not to fake too soon allowing the runner to reestablish his lead and have his momentum going toward third base.

F. As the pitch is made, the SHORTSTOP moves down the line to protect his position against a batted ball.

1.      He uses a shuffle type footwork, similar to that employed in basketball defense, to maintain his lateral movement.

2.      When the ball is bunted missed, or taken by the hitter, the SHORTSTOP covers second base, assuming an inside position where he remains alert for a throw.

G. The probability of a force-out at second base is almost non-existent, but the possibility of a pick-off from the catcher exists every time the ball passes the hitter.

VI. Third Baseman -

A.    With runners on first and second base and the bunt in order, the THIRD BASEMAN is faced with his most difficult defensive situation.

B.    The THIRD BASEMAN assumes a trackman's stance and a position on the edge of the grass a few feet from the line.

C.    The threat of a steal is ever present, so the THIRD BASEMAN must be careful not to creep too far forward or charge in as the hitter squares around to bunt.

D.    The THIRD BASEMAN should have the feeling that "he would like to go in but must stay back," and he must be prepared to field any ball that is bunted too hard for the pitcher to field.

E.    Because so much judgement is involved in this coordination with the pitcher, the chance of making a mistake is great.

F.    The THIRD BASEMAN must understand that if he makes a mistake in judgment, it must be in favor of first base and the sure out.

1.      That is, if he is uncertain whether the pitcher can field the bunt;

2.      Or, if he is caught too far out of position, he should not return to third base, but should field the ball himself and retire the runner at first.

3.      He must have a mental picture of the area where the pitcher can't make the play to third base, or would have difficulty throwing the runner out at first base.

4.      This is the area down the third base line close to the foul line…run the pitcher off and make the play to first base.

G. The THIRD BASEMAN has three basic considerations:

1.      The fielding ability of the pitcher.

2.      Where the ball is bunted (location of bunt.)

3.      How hard the ball is bunted.

H. In the event the pitcher is able to field the bunt, the THIRD BASEMAN covers third base for the force-out there.

I. Once the ball is bunted, the third baseman takes one of two steps forward and makes his determination.

1.      When the THIRD BASEMAN is certain the pitcher will field the ball, he pivots on his right foot toward the third base line and crosses over with his left leg, making a turn, which is somewhat less than 180 degrees.

2.      The THIRD BASEMAN returns to the base looking over his right shoulder to assume a position in front of the base and awaits the throw that he plays, like a first baseman…be sure he tags the base correctly with the ball of his foot not with the side of his foot.

3.      Another method is to pivot on the right foot, making a full 180-degree turn, then running directly to the inside of third base. There the THIRD BASEMAN executes a reverse pivot on his left foot and prepares to receive the throw.

4.      Of the two methods, the former allows the THIRD BASEMAN to watch the play develop as he returns to the base.

a.      Consequently, he is less likely to be caught by surprise when the throw arrives;

b.      The pitcher and first baseman tend to be more confident in throwing to third base.

5.      The successful execution of this defensive maneuver is essentially a question of PITCHER/THIRD BASEMAN coordination.

6.      Almost as important is the PITCHER/SHORTSTOP timing to prevent the base runner from getting too large a lead off second base.

7.      Drills that emphasize this phase of the defense should be incorporated into the practice schedule and then practiced regularly.

8.      During practice have the PITCHER AND THIRD BASEMAN switch positions so that they can understand each others defensive problems.

VII. Outfielders - The OUTFIELDERS back up the bases.

A. The RIGHT FIELDER backs up first base.

B. The CENTERFIELDER backs up second base.

C. The LEFT FIELDER backs up third base.

VIII. Bunt Defense - Runner on Second Base -

A. With a runner on second base and the bunt in order, team defensive responsibilities remain the same.

B. The third baseman must tag the runner at third base rather than force him out.

IX. Conclusion - Attempt to force out the runner at third base, but "ONE RUNNER MUST BE RETIRED!"

Situation #12 –

With Runners on First and Second - Bunt Situation in order:

PITCHER: Break toward third base line upon delivering the ball.

CATCHER: Field bunts in front of home plate.

FIRST BASEMAN: Responsible for all balls in the area between first and a direct line from the mound to home plate.

SECOND BASEMAN: Cover first base.

SHORTSTOP: Hold runner close to bag before pitch. Cover second base.

THIRD BASEMAN: Take position on the edge of the grass; call the play,
whether the pitcher or third baseman is to field the bunt.

LEFT FIELDER: Back up third base.

CENTERFIELDER: Back up second base.

RIGHT FIELDER: Back up first base.


Lesson N umber OneLesson N umber One

   
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