By Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro
There are certain situations in a game when it is necessary to put the batter on first base. This is known as an intentional walk, which is essentially when a pitcher deliberately throws unhittable pitches so as to walk the hitter. The pitcher must throw four balls, just like a normal walk. He can not just simply tell the umpire he wishes to put the batter on first base*.
To signal an intentional walk, the catcher will normally stand up behind the plate with his throwing hand reaching outside. Once the pitcher throws the ball, the catcher is able to move and catch the pitch. It is important that the catcher does not leave the catcher’s box until after the pitcher makes the pitch, or the result will be a balk.
There are two common situations in which an intentional walk may be a good idea. The first is to bypass a strong hitter who may have been having a good game. If there is a runner on second base and a good hitter comes to the plate, it is not uncommon for him to be intentionally walked so as to set up a force out. Another common situation is to set up a double play. This may come early or late in a game, but a good example is late in the game with the defensive team losing. If there are runners in scoring position such as 2nd and 3rd, the pitcher may throw an intentional walk to load the bases, thus setting up a force out at home and a possible double play.
Throwing an intentional walk is relatively simple, yet mistakes are still made. The most common mistake is the pitcher will throw a wild pitch, which in most cases will lead to the runners moving up at least one base. Another mistake is the pitcher may accidentally deliver a strike, and the batter will hit the ball. Both of these common problems can easily be fixed, and it just takes a little bit of practice.
Throwing an intentional walk is just like throwing any other type of pitch; it must be practiced during bullpen sessions. A pitcher is trained to throw strikes, and when he must purposefully throw a ball, it can be a shock to the body. In his bullpen, a pitcher must be sure to incorporate intentional walk practice into his routine. He should strive to throw the ball around two feet off the plate near the catcher’s standing eye level. The velocity should be hard enough to where the ball makes it to the plate, but not so hard where the catcher does not have enough time to move out to receive it.
An intentional walk is one of those plays in baseball that can make or break a game. If a pitcher does not execute it correctly, the consequences can change the outcome of the game.
To ensure this situation is performed well in a game, be sure to practice this in your bullpen sessions. You never know when you may need to set up a double play or get passed a strong hitter. Work on it!
*In some younger leagues, a pitcher may simply tell the umpire he wants to put the runner on first, instead of intentionally walking the hitter.
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