Pitchers Holding Runners At First
By Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro
For Right-Handed Pitchers:
Holding a runner at first base for a right-handed pitcher can be tough because you can’t see them very well. Your back is turned, and you are concentrating on the catcher and the hitter. But by doing a few key things in your delivery, you can keep the runners close to first base which will help you and your catcher in the long run.
Changing your counts is the most important thing you must remember to do. By this, I mean changing how long you hold the set position before delivering home. I personally use the U-C-L-A counting system. Once I come set, I begin counting in my head, “U..C..L..A” and I try to change which letter I deliver each pitch. This is a great way to keep the runners from timing your delivery.
If you think a runner might be stealing, hold your set position for a long time…U..C..L..A..U..C..Step Off. By stepping off the rubber after a long set, you can disrupt the runner’s timing. However, as soon as you step off, get right back on the rubber. Come set and deliver the pitch on the “U” count. By hurrying up after a long hold, the runner’s timing will be off and he won’t be able to get a good jump on the steal. Sometimes a long hold is more effective than a pickoff.
These are just two strategies that have worked for me in holding runners on first base. The biggest thing to keep in mind is to mess up the runner’s timing. Since you can’t see him, you must make him watch you. If you make him pay attention to your timing, you have done your job correctly.
For Left-Handed Pitchers
Lefties have a huge advantage in that they can see the base runner at first base. This makes it difficult for a runner to get a good jump on the pitcher. By mixing in different pickoff moves, a base runner will have a difficult time stealing off of you.
Learn how to make a good pick off to first base. When I say “good”, I mean an effective pickoff move. You need to really fake out that runner using any means necessary. Typically, if you can make your head look like you are going home, the runner will fall for it. Practice your pickoff moves with base runners from your team and have them give you feedback on your move.
The ultimate pickoff is a “balk move”. A balk move is a pickoff in which you actually balk towards home plate. This is especially effective because a base runner will fall for it, but an umpire will rarely call you for the balk. To perform a balk move, lift your leg like you are going home and break the 45 degree angle that is allowed for a pick off. The more you can away with, the more effective your balk move will be. The goal is to make the runner think you are going to deliver the ball to the plate, so the more you can balk and get away with, the better.
Holding runners on first base for a righty for a lefty is not overly difficult. It just takes some time and practice to master the best moves and strategies. Practice your techniques with your teammates and have them give you feedback on what is working!
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Want to learn more about pickoff moves, fielding drills and defensive plays for pitchers? Arm yourself with the most innovative and up-to-date baseball pitching training available. These related pitching materials from former Chicago Cubs pitching pro Steven Ellis are guaranteed to help you or the players you coach pitch better and reach the next level faster!