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The pitcher as the cutoff man? Yes!

The subject of cutoffs and relays can be a daunting exercise to the novice or sub-varsity high school player.

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With no runners on, or runner on first alone, the task is relatively simple. Each infielder covers a base and either the shortstop or second baseman is the relay man to 2nd or 3rd.

However, with multiple runners--on 1st and 2nd, 2nd and 3rd, or bases loaded--the scenario can become quite confusing. In addition to a play at a base, there is also a possibility of a play at home.

On a hit or fly ball, outfielders have three choices of where to throw--2nd, 3rd, or home. Cutoffs become even more difficult when a ball is hit between the infielders, rather than over them. You now have the possibility of two infielders attempting to field the batted ball, not just one.

For example, if a ball is hit on the ground between the 1st and 2nd base-man and the 1st baseman is ranging far to his right, there seems little chance of being able to recover in time to get into cutoff position between the mound and first.

The same is true of a ball hit between short and 3rd and the latter is the cutoff man. In that case, the SS has the added responsibility of crossing over to cover 3rd in case a runner is trying to advance.

A simple way to eliminate confusion and minimize the chance of an infielder forgetting his or her assignment is to have the pitcher be the cutoff man. This allows four infielders the chance to cover three bases rather than three.

In Long Island, as well as the five boroughs of New York City, the backstop is usually only 8 to 12 feet behind the catcher. And so there is little actual room for the pitcher to stand behind the catcher. In realty, it actually adds confusion to the situation--they just get in the way.

When a pitcher does back up home, I've often seen both pitcher and catcher chasing an errant throw and, in their enthusiasm, leaving the plate uncovere d! Remember, we're often dealing with novice players here. However, having the pitcher as the cutoff man solves this potential problem.

Knowledgeable coaches would probably concede that on a youth team or on the J.V. or middle school level, the game pitcher will be one of its best athletes. Chances are that, when not pitching, that individual would be a position player.

This is different than on the varsity, college, or pro level where players are more specialized and coaches want that person to avoid handling the ball--only pitch.

With multiple runners on and a possible play at home on a hit to the outfield, the pitcher merely stands on the back of the mound awaiting direction from the catcher to move left, right, or stand still.

Depending upon whether the ball is hit to the outfield, the catcher or coach can yell either "cut" (hold the ball), "cut home" or "cut 4" (throw home), "cut 3" (throw to 3rd) or "cut 2" (throw to 2nd).

This system allows the infielders to stay and cover their respective bases: first baseman on 1st, second baseman on 2nd, and third baseman on 3rd. With runners on 1st and 2nd, the shortstop is now free to get into cutoff position if the outfielder decides to throw to third instead of home.

The SS no longer has the responsibility of covering 2nd since the 2nd baseman will do that. Thus, this eliminates excessive "running around."

It even works with a runner on 3rd and less than two out. On a caught fly ball, the pitcher can relay an offline throw home or cut it off.

If, for some reason the runner from 3rd changes his mind and stops between 3rd and home, the 3rd sacker is in position to cover his base to initiate a possible rundown.

If the ball falls safely, the 1st baseman is in position to be near first in case an over-anxious batter/runner is trapped between 1st and 2nd and a rundown ensues.

Thus, using the pitcher as a cutoff man "frees up" the 1st baseman to be near his bag. He wouldn't need to be in cutoff position!

Contrast this with having your 1st or 3rd baseman run your cutoffs. Since I'm sure most coaches play their entire roster most of the time, you may have five different players at those spots on five different days.

Thus, you would need additional practice time "teaching" these responsibilities to many different players rather than doing something else.

To conclude, these ideas are easy to teach and easy to learn. It is foolproof and there are no loopholes or exceptions. The running around is cut to a bare minimum.

There is little chance of a youngster becoming "confused" or "wasting" a player backing up the catcher when, in reality, there is little room to do so.

By Harvey Sandig, Head Coach, Blue Jays Baseball Club Islip Terrace, NY
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Title Annotation:BASEBALL
Author:Sandig, Harvey
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Apr 1, 2007
Words:841
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