Have you ever watched a game on TV where the pitcher gives way to a fielder on a easy pop fly to the infield? Even a pop fly that the pitcher could catch without moving a muscle? You see the pitcher run out of the way of the other fielders, right? Or when the catcher calls off a pitcher attempting to field a bunt? Or when the shortstop yells to get out of the way of a ground ball so he can field it cleanly? Me too. The obvious reason is that professional level fielders (1st, 2nd, 3rd, SS, C) are far better defensively, on average, than a pitcher. Another factor is the mound and the safety factor of coming down a slope to field the ball vs already being on level ground. I get that one as well. But, it is true that pitchers can field the baseball.
There is no defensive rule on any level that says the pitcher cannot catch a pop fly or field a bunt or snag a grounder going up the middle. This isn’t like soccer where the players on the field can’t use their hands but the goalie can. Youth baseball pitchers need to get involved on the defensive side of ball because they are the 9th fielder. Some of the best pitchers at any level will help themselves out defensively by fielding their position – knowing when to get involved and when to back off for another fielder to take control of the play. Communication with the infielders and catcher is very important to any successful infield play, especially when it involves the pitcher fielding the baseball. A pitcher is primarily focused on getting the batter out and sometimes can forget outs, runners on bases, and other defensive situations. The other fielders are focused on the game itself – outs, situations, runners moving – and can be the best allies for the pitcher.
Here is one drill I work on with my son, Harry, who is an aspiring pitcher at age 14. First, I take a bucket of baseballs and place them all around the mound – in front, to the side, behind him. I have Harry pitch the baseball to me or to a backstop, full windup, game like condition. If you practice game like conditions, your players will have that muscle memory, situational awareness, and mental toughness when the games arrive.
I make sure Harry is in a good fielding position after he throws. Body facing the batter with his head up, glove in front, and ready to field. Then, I will call out “Bunt” or “Left Side” or “Right Side” and have him run off the mound to field the baseball. Fielding in this case means running to the spot of the baseball, breaking down to field the ball cleanly, and then a pivot and throw to first base from wherever he is.
Having coached youth baseball for over 10 years now, I know that a good fielding pitcher can be an incredible asset to a team. Balls are not always hit out of the park, some not even out of the infield. A good fielding pitcher on your team can field “swinging bunts” and easy pop flies and save runs. If an infielder or catcher has a better angle on the play, communication is very important at any level. Pitchers, after you throw that devastating curveball or sinking fastball or awesome change-up, get into a good fielding position so you are ready to help your team defensively. Listen to the calls of the infielders on where to throw the baseball should you field it. Get out of the way if another player has a better chance of making a play to help your team. Be prepared to field the baseball and be prepared to be called off.