As a former pro infielder, I do miss throwing out lefty slappers the most. Nothing feels better. It's a foot race to the base for the runner and to the ball for the fielder. As the slapper is creeping up towards the edge of the batter's box for contact point, the defense is closing in, tightening the edges of the diamond. Everyone standing on dirt is waiting to go into a full sprint. Once bat meets ball, it is green light GO!
The reason why I loved defending the short game is because it is your chance as an infielder to race the offense. I liked the challenge. The batted-runner has the easy job after the ball has been hit, just run to first! The defense, however, has to sprint to the ball, catch, and throw all in one. In fastpitch this crucial combination of movement is called throwing on the run.
When choosing to throw on the run versus getting into a standard fielding and throwing position, it is important to only use it when you absolutely need to. Solid defense is about eliminating risks. For example, there are less risks of a ball hitting a dirt pebble and taking a bad hop around you if you are setting your feet and fielding wide and low. However, if you are facing a lefty slapping who is 2.9 down the line, then you may not be in position to play it safe. Instead, you may just have to accept the risks and field in a narrow sprinting position to have any chance of throwing the runner out in time. As mentioned in our previous articles on Game Speed Defense, much of this decision making process needs to take place as the batter is getting into the box. If she is a speedy slap per on the left side of the box then we already know there is a good chance we will be throwing on the run once the ball is hit. In general, the softer the ball is hit, the harder we sprint.
An important aspect of being able to run hard on defense is to build momentum in each step. However we have to be careful not to crash in too hard too soon.
A lefty slapper's repertoire is to mix speed with the element of surprise. Until the last second we do not know if the slapper is going to drill a power slap through us or drop a soft slap or drag bunt into the shallow defensive holes. Therefore, until the point of contact, let's creep in to slowly build momentum within each step while maintaining our defensive range.
Now that the ball has been hit, let's talk about how to get low and field the ball so that our throw is in sync with our feet while running. Speaking from my own experience, I am going to explain this from a right-handed short stop's point of view. The first thing you have to do is sprint up as close to the short hop as possible so the likelihood of the ball bouncing over your glove is small. We prefer short hops or long hops over middle hops as they are easier to predict where our glove needs to be. Once you are close to the short hop, the best approach is to time your steps so that your glove foot is forward while you are catching the ball with the glove just in front and outside of that same foot. As we scoop our glove through the short hop, we pull the ball out of our glove in a very low throwing position with our hands still just near the ground we fielded from. As the hands are transferring from catch into a throwing wind up, our back right foot is continuing our forward run. By the time the right foot plants, we are ready to use a side-arm throw to first base, while our shoulders are slanted diagonally towards the ground and the sky. This is called throwing from low to high since if we took the time to stand up and throw with level shoulders like normal, we would be too late to get the runner in time. As a brief synopsis for a right-handed fielder, catch off of your left foot and throw off of your right foot! Get rid of the ball from that low fielding position and you can stand up to catch your balance after. Like hot potato, the ball is in and out!
Another important piece of the puzzle is to speed up your run throughout the throw. I see many fielders who try to slow their feet down from catch to throw since that is what we normally do when we have more time. However if we want to beat a lefty slapper in 2.9 seconds, we have to combine the catch, throw and run into one fluid nonstop motion. Therefore, maintain your run through the ball in the same direction that you are headed. There is no need to set your feet towards first base, just keep running towards home. Remember, it is a foot race between you and the batted runner so challenge her to the sprint.
Lastly, anticipate an altered direction of your throw since you are throwing towards first base while you are building a running momentum towards home. You don't want the momentum to push your throw wide and out towards foul territory. In this case, use your wrist more to hook the throw in. This will keep the ball inside the diamond as you are throwing on the run!
|Lisa Iancin: Lisa Iancin “LI” competed professionally in the (NPF) for 5 seasons, gathering a national championship in 2004 with the New York/New Jersey Juggernaut and in 2006 with the New England Riptide. In 2005, Iancin was named the NPF Defensive Player of the Year. Among her college accolades at Cal are First Team AII-Pac 10 and back-to-back appearances at the Women's College World Series in 1999 and 2000. Internationally, Iancin played for Team Bussolengo, Italy in 2001. Iancin was the Assistant General Manager of the Tennessee Diamonds for the 2010 (NPF) season. To find out more about LI go to LISoftballAcademy.com|
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