There is more to pitching than just throwing fastballs, curves, and changeups. You also need to be a good fielder. One of the toughest plays for a pitcher is covering first base. Being a top-notch fielder will win you some close games, and keep you out of unnecessary jams.
Here is the way we teach this crucial defensive play at UCLA:
Tip No.1: Head to First
On all ground balls hit to the pitcher's left, he must react immediately and sprint to cover first base. The pitcher should break toward first base but not directly at—he should head for a point about ten feet from first base (the cut of the grass area).
As he approaches the first base line, we teach our pitchers to run on the inside of the basepath and parallel to the base line. Many coaches teach their pitchers to run to a point about twenty, and sometimes even thirty feet, in front of first base.
With a fast runner at the plate, this "detour route" may prove too slow and the runner may beat the pitcher to the base. It is generally agreed, however, that running directly to first base makes it difficult for the pitcher to catch and react, as well as raising the potential of crossing the runner's path.
Note: Crossing the path of the runner is something a pitcher never wants to do; it becomes increasingly difficult to catch a first baseman's toss while trying to avoid a collision with a runner.
Tip No.2: Footwork
The pitcher should touch the inside half of first base with his foot (preferably his right) and break-off to the inside of the diamond. He should never cross the base to the foul side of the line in order to avoid a collision with a runner.
In a perfect world, the first baseman's toss will get to the pitcher just before he steps on the bag, allowing him enough time to find the inside of first base. However, in most cases, the ball arrives at the same time, or a fraction before a pitcher must find the bag.
Tip No.3: Proper Execution
Listed below are a few tips for the pitcher when covering first base:
- Break from the mound as soon as the ball is hit to the left side—do not wait to see who fields it or if it goes through the infield. Take off as soon as possible!
- Go hard at the beginning—it is better to start fast and slow down as you make the play rather than start slow and have to speed up.
- Run on your toes as much as possible—running flat-footed tends to jar your head and makes the ball appear to be bobbing up and down. Running on your toes cushions the impact and helps the pitcher see the ball better. A first baseman's toss may be high, low or even behind the pitcher, and it is important for a pitcher to clearly see the ball in the air.
- A few steps before reaching first base, raise your glove chest high to give the first or second baseman a target for his throw.