Pitchers come in many sizes and have many levels of ability. Some need to focus on the task at hand and pitch only. Others can handle a variety of duties including fielding and even calling plays for some teams. Her abilities and the philosophy of the coach will determine what the Individual pitcher responsibilities will be. Bunts, Pop-ups and grounders can create confusion and chaos in front of the plate. This is why some coaches will say, unless the ball is coming directly at the pitcher, the corners will take care of it. On some teams though, the pitcher might be the best player. In these situations, many coaches will have her do most of the fielding in front of her.
After the Pitch:
Once the ball leaves her hand, the individual pitcher responsibilities are not over. The pitcher needs to be ready for anything that might come back at her. For safety reasons, it is highly recommended in many leagues for the pitchers to wear the fielder face mask because she doesn’t have as much time to prepare for the ball. For some leagues it is even mandatory. Ideally, the follow through on the pitch will leave her in a position that is balanced and facing the batter with her glove ready to field. The distance she is from the plate makes good reaction time very important for this position.
As with the rest of the defense, the pitcher needs to know where the best play will be if she gets the ball. It is possible that fielding the ball will take the pitcher away from first base where the play will likely be. she will need to use her foot to brace and pivot towards the base that she will be throwing the all to. If the play is behind her, she can use her momentum to turn to the side that she has fielded the ball, and then throw to the target. Depending on how close she is to the target, she will either throw the ball overhand, or take steps toward the target and execute an underhand toss to her team mate. Checking for the receiver will be important because the base player might not be at the base yet when it is fielded. The pitcher will often be ready to throw before her team mate is ready to receive the ball.
As many are aware, the batted ball that creates the most chaos in front of the plate is the bunt. This is where established procedures are very useful. The individual pitcher responsibilities for this in my fielding rules is that she only fields the balls that come right to her. With the third base player, the catcher and the first base player charging in on the ball, there are more than enough players to take care of it. If she does field it, she needs to make sure that she knows where the runner is and fires it to the the player covering first base on the inside of the field. If the runner is running on the inside of the field and gets hit by the ball, she should be called out for interference. After bunting the ball, the runner is supposed to run on the outside of the field in the base path that is created for this purpose.
On a squeeze play, the catcher needs to stay at the plate to receive the ball so the third base, pitcher or first base player needs to field the ball and get it to the catcher as quickly as possible. Then add the runner who is likely halfway to home into the mix. The pitcher needs to be an exceptional fielder under pressure to be able to make this play. And the ball needs to be almost right to her for it to be successful. The success of the pitcher for this play can depend on if the ball is sent to the right or left side of the plate and if the pitcher is left or right handed. If the ball is sent to the opposite side of her fielding hand, it is best to let the corner player get the ball. If it is sent to her fielding hand side, there is a good chance that she can get the ball and flip it to the the catcher for the out. If the coach has designated the corners only to field this ball then she needs to stay back and out of the way. The only place she might go is to the first base side and behind the catcher to back her up. It is likely that the batter will be on her way to first by then so there will be less chance for a collision.
This is where having a solid fly ball rule is useful for balls in the infield. With the first and third base players about the same distance from the ball when it is at it’s peak, there can be confusion and the ball can land on the dirt or even out of play. If this happens, hopefully it has not touched an infielder first as it will be just a foul ball then. Many coaches will say, if it does not go in the circle the pitcher should let the corners field it. This is a good play because then there is no confusion so there should be no errors. Even though the pitcher might not be fielding the ball, she still needs to be ready and backing up in case the ball is dropped.
One of the important individual pitcher responsibilities is to know the rules when there are runners advancing on the bases. For example, if a runner rounds first base and the pitcher has the ball, the runner needs to either go to the next base or return to first immediately. If the pitcher is making a play then it is fair game for the runner and she can go either way or get the pitcher to throw the ball somewhere. By being calm and knowing the rules, the pitcher will not get startled or react in a way that gives the runner extra bases. The batter / runner could also round first and go to second when there is a runner on third base. This is because the offense feels safe on the play because the defense might be more worried about the runner on third who might be acting as a decoy. For some inexperienced teams this might be an easy base or a run scored for the offense.
The pitcher can also pick off a runner who is taking a big lead off from second which is very common. Especially with more inexperienced teams. By establishing a set play, the catcher can communicate with the pitcher and she can get a quick out. It will need to be quick and accurate though because an error could even give the runner a clear path to home if it goes out to a center fielder who is not ready. On a team that I coached, the pitcher had also picked the runner off at second when the ball was being returned from the catcher. The runner was taking her time going back to second after a lead off and was not paying attention to the ball. The pitcher received the ball, did a quick turn as if taking a relay throw and fired it to second where there was fielder waiting. Again it is a set play and should be practiced.
A pick off at first or third is not as safe because the runner may simply advance on the throw. Getting the ball to to the base the runner is leading off from and then to the next base accurately and quickly might take more time than it does for the runner to get to the next base. Success with this play would depend on abilities of the defense the speed of the runner.
The individual pitcher responsibilities Difference:
The individual pitcher responsibilities have similarities but are different from the other infielders. The biggest one of course is that they do not have as much time as the others to get ready to field the ball. They are also not as mentally ready as the other fielders because they are focusing on pitching the ball and then must refocus quickly from a pitcher to a defender. Many pitchers will also have difficulty throwing overhand after fielding because they have just been pitching in an underhand motion. We have seen that even at the highest levels of the game. Again, this should be practiced often.
At the experienced levels of the game, I let the pitchers know that they have a very competent field beside and behind them. This means that she does not have to field if the ball is out of her reach. In fact it can be more of a detriment than a benefit because she can be out of position or she can deflect the ball away from other fielders. Practicing with the pitcher as an infielder is important to give her confidence in these situations. Often teams focus on the rest of the field while the pitchers practice pitching. They need to be a part of the plays because you don’t know when you are going to need them.