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Softball Fielding Tips - The Fifth Infielder

By Dick Smith
Head Coach – University of St. Francis

So, little pitcher, how did practice go?
“Well, pretty good.” says Felicia Flameshooter. “I threw 150 pitches.”
What else?
“Nothing. Why? Oh, if you mean stretching, I did that and ran some before I pitched.”
No fielding practice?
“No, why?”

Well, let me count the “whys.” Please note that there are some very good fielding pitchers, but past observations have indicated to me that the majority of hurlers are “pitch oriented.” That is, once they throw the ball in the direction of the plate, they figure their business is completed until they have to throw the ball again.

A good pitcher is also a good infielder.Even when balls are hit well past their position, pitchers love to watch the outcome from their lofty bivouacs near the mound. The regularly fail to back up plays during the ensuing action and pretty much stand around complaining that the coach or the catcher called the wrong pitch.

These deficiencies are relatively easy to remedy, however. Some understandable, direct and vigorous instructions, along with a little practice, will often be sufficient. If after this the pitcher remains what I call “game dense” (clueless as to what to do) and if the coaching staff is not preoccupied with other matters during play, a coach might have time to shout out instructions such as, “Felicia! Back up home!”

Felicia will replace her blank look with a raised eyebrow and mouth the words, “Oh, yeah.” She might then have time to get to her appointed station.

Such softball pitching delinquencies, however, pale in comparison to others. These concern 1) failure to field balls hit up the middle, 2) throws from pitchers to a base, usually first, 3) throwing to home on bunts, and 4) covering the plate on wild pitches or passed balls.


1) “But Smitty,” protests Felicia, “My dad hits me grounders at practice.”

Yeah, but how often and how hard? I’ve seen the candy hops you get and most are right at you when you are in a fielding position. How about some line drives and hard hit balls a split second after you have pitched a ball? Yes, you can pitch to a catcher standing beside a coach and have the coach hit a ball at you about the time the pitch reaches the catcher. These should be hit to your right and left, at varying speeds and it should be done at every practice. Also, you might try getting your rear end down to field the grounders, rather than bending at the waist. Yeah, try groveling for the ball like the rest of the infield. It’s okay to get your uniform dirty, you know.

Coach can use whiffle balls for this practice. The pitcher used her full motion and the coach immediately flips a whiffle ball back at her from about 10 feet. The flips should be high, low and like a line drive. Works great.

2) “Well, o.k., but I’ve got a real good arm!”

Yes you do. It’s so fine that when throwing to first base, the right fielder has fun running after the ball. Have you noticed the throws are all high? The first baseman has little chance to catch the ball. I would rather you roll the ball on the ground to first. At least the person there has an opportunity to make a catch. There is a reason for high throws. Usually it is because you  are over-throwing, over-striding and/or standing straight up after you field a ball.

On those occasions when you do throw it in the dirt, it is usually because you have no confidence in the throw and take too much off. You accomplish this by taking your throwing arm way back and then you try to slow down the forward movement of your arm as you throw the ball. This may be hard for you to visualize and I understand that, but you must make every effort to get your throws to your target. You can start by working on every overhand throw you make while warming up. Look for a target each time and then try to hit it. Maybe, with some practice, your basemen will be able to use their gloves instead of their legs.

3) “Yes, but what’s this about squeeze bunts? I rarely see one.”

You are right. There aren’t many such situations now and those that occur involve basically slow and unskilled runners. But what about the future, when you go up in level, when the opponents realize you can’t field a bunt properly? It won’t take them long, you know.

Basically, you do the same thing on bunts that you do on other plays. You get to the ball, field it, stand up, and then throw. You should learn to do it by staying low as you field the ball and then make a low, “soft” throw to the catcher by using an underhand toss or backhand flip. The key is staying low as you field and then make the throw. If you stand up as you field and then make the throw, you lose time and the ball may be overthrown.

You should also work hard on the “run through” throw or toss. Simply put, you charge the ball, field it and flip it all on the run. Takes practice, but it makes for a nice, soft toss which the catcher can easily handle, even if the throw is a little off target.

4) “Yes, but….”

Now, don’t tell me how good you are at covering the plate. The way you are doing it will get you a nice trip to the emergency room. Personally, I would rather have no outs than an injured pitcher. In other words, try to stay healthy during and after the play. Good pitchers are tough to replace.

In general, you loaf getting to the plate. When there is a runner on third, you must soothsay that every pitch will be wild and you should be prepared to break for the plate immediately, not tomorrow. The run to the plate should be a sprint. Go as fast as you can go and get your body under control as you reach the plate. Keep your feet to the inside of the baseline, giving the runner the back part of the plate. Bend your knees, get your rear end down and prepare for a bad throw (yes, a bad throw) and then make the tag as a sweeping motion, after which you must immediately get your feet out of the way by moving to the inside of the diamond. Be prepared at this point to throw to another base if there are other runners meandering about.

Common sense will tell you that a one-handed tag is better than using both hands. If you tag with both hands, the throwing hand is exposed to injury form all sorts of demons, principally spikes. Don’t think this little fact is unimportant. College runners use metal spikes and they make nasty wounds. While it is true using this method will cause you to drop the ball occasionally, I guarantee that you will return to the mound as the healthy pitcher.

I will have to lay the blame for poor fielding pitchers on those who teach pitching. They simply do not teach the fine art of fielding. Ignoring this facet of the game is the biggest disservice one can do to a pitcher. It is a wrong which must be corrected if kids are to become fine pitchers. Most think you just go out and pitch.

“Sounds too complicated for me.”

Felicia, it isn’t. It’s basic stuff. If you do not field your position, there is a monstrous hole up the middle. Keep in mind this is where good batters are trained to hit. If you aren’t there, no one else will be and woe to your ERA. Yes, you are not only a pitcher, but an infielder, as well. In fact, you are the fifth infielder.
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