Week Four: Game management, being a field general, and beyond.
After three weeks we have covered everything from receiving, to blocking, throwing to the bases, and even recovering and throwing a pass ball to the plate. Even the best in the game let some get by them. However all of these skills are second to our ability to control the game in front of us. As catchers we are the only defensive player on the field in foul territory and this gives us the ability to see all eight of our fielders. In week four we are going to cover the odds and ends that we typically don't have time to practice with our team.
Defending the Bunt as a catcher is all about our angles and footwork. when fielding bunts along the first base side after gathering the ball we must give ourselves a throwing lane. since runners are taught to run on the inside of the base path to obstruct the throwing lane we need to shuffle out towards the pitchers mound and then again towards first base to square our shoulders. We need to be squaring our shoulders to the base every time we throw. The only time we won't square our shoulders is on a bang bang play when we don't have time to get our shoulders around. This only happens on about 1% of bunts though. Remember always gather the ball with both hands. Unless the ball is completely stopped we do not want to go down with just our bare hand. We NEVER want to go down and grab a ball with just our glove. On bunts to the middle and our right we don't want to turn our back. However on bunts down the third base line we want to field the ball in front of our left foot, plant with the right and spin. If we have enough time to shuffle it is always best to shuffle and guarantee we have squared off our shoulders to first base. These plays can be practiced during infield outfield when outfielders are throwing to second and third base.
The three main points of emphasis when fielding bunts are...
1. Gathering the ball
2. Creating a throwing lane
3. Squaring off our shoulders to the the base we are throwing to
Tag Plays at the plate are another part of catching that we don't often have the opportunity to practice on a regular basis. When tagging a runner out who is sliding into the plate we ALWAYS want to make the tag with two hand. By holding the ball in our right and and protecting our hand/ball in our glove we limit the chances of losing the ball or having it knocked out of our possession by a sliding runner. Protecting or blocking the plate is also another part of making a tag play. Dropping our right knee to the ground and keeping our left foot in front of the plate, hides it from the runner. This gives the base runner very little of the plate to work with and hopefully forces them to try and slide around us to the back of the plate.
We need to remember though we cannot block the plate if the ball is not in our possession. The catch, drop of the knee, and tag should be one fluid motion. Thankfully for catchers, the home plate collision has been eliminated by Major League Baseball following the Buster Posey injury, and runners have no choice but to slide or avoid. However we still want to be careful when blocking the plate. Make sure we are in a balanced athletic position with both of our feet firmly on the ground, and in a good position to receive contact from a baserunner. Make sure to get our chest and head around so we can see the runner coming straight on. Sometimes base runners will try and make a juke move like a running back in football. Do not lunge at them, remember he needs to come to you.
Signaling, directing cutoffs, and calling to bases are a major part of our job as catchers. We will make mistakes, and we will call for balls to go to the wrong base on occasion. Something we cannot do though is not be confident in our decisions. I always preach to our younger catchers to project, and sound confident. By simply sounding confident, there will be no hesitation. More often than not, If you sound right, people will think you are right. Be confident, because the eight players in front of you are counting on it!
That wraps up our four week catchers clinic, thanks for following along. Be sure to check us out on Instagram at @muggeobaseball and Twitter at @amuggeo34 to see some of the drills that we have been going through for the past four weeks!