As a fielder, pitchers are kind of in a no-man’s land. Although expected to be a fielder, in some regards, this is not an area where pitcher’s live. Admittedly, fielding is all part of the job, but many coaches find that having a pitcher involved in a fielding play is like hiring a gorilla to put away good china. Well, you get the idea.
So, my purpose here is not to say- do this, or do that, but instead, to suggest what you shouldn’t do. Why?
Well, because not matter how many times you practice covering plays at first base, somehow in the real world things get quick and weird and so far removed from practice. Also, so many coaches have their own version of what they want to see as play making.
Here are my suggestions for a pitcher involved with plays at first:
1.) Don’t try and tag the runner if you possibly can avoid it. On the other hand, if your first baseman is so far off the bag that tagging the runner seems like the way to go, just be mindful of player contacts. If you’re dealing with a force play, it’s safer just to touch the bag. I’ve had pitchers get stepped on, pushed, and even had a pitcher get his wrist on his glove hand badly bruised when a batter runner tried to dislodge the ball from his glove to avoid being tagged.
2,) Your first baseman has a mitt for catching balls coming in at a clip, but, he’s not a catcher, 60 feet away and with a padded mitt. Resist the urge to rocket a ball in his direction once you’ve fielded. An another thing that’s often overlooked is the background that the first baseman is viewing. The background that a first baseman has to deal with can be cluttered with various objects behind you. Picking up a screaming throw from you, only a few feet away is bad news - so don’t do it. If you’ve ever seen the pro’s fielding a ball around the mound, they usually lob the ball to the first baseman, or, underhand it. In any event, there’s usually a space that’s halfway between the mound and the first bag that acts as mark for how you should deliver a fielded ball to first. On the mound side of that half way point - a deliberate lob is appropriate, whereas on the first bag side of that half way point, a deliberate underhand is appropriate. Also, don’t forget, your first baseman is not only concentrating on your potential throw, but out of the corner of his eye is this runner barreling towards him.
3.) Running towards first base ahead of the batter runner can be an impulse without much thought to it, I will admit. But, you’ve got to put that mindset somewhere else. You must not let the excitement of the moment take hold and charge the bag with abandonment. Never go straight to the bad with the intention of beating the runner as your objective. Doing so will have you running across the bag with a high possibility of runner into the batter runner. You objective should be to just barely make contact with the leading edge of the bag as it faces you, the make a quick turn in an arch away from the bag and those near the bag - like the batter runner, a late arrival of the first baseman, and the first base umpire, and sometimes the other team’s first base coach. I’ve seen a collision of all four individuals because of the tempo of the moment - with the end result of my guy limping around on one leg.
4.) Tosses on the run should always be done directly at the fielder covering first, and deliberately chest high, Don’t try and lead the fielder by tossing the ball in front of him. This kind of throw/toss is hard enough to estimate, adding the attention span of the fielder trying to reach the bag, the runner coming into view of the fielder and a lot of other possibilities. Now I know some coaches advocate differently, and if that works for you and your fielders, so be it. But, screw the play up by having the fielder bobble the ball, or being too far in front, and the blame game will continue well after the scoreboard is shut off.