By Nate Barnett
One of the best ways to force long innings (when you are on offense of course) and to win more games is to put added pressure on the defense. There are multiple ways of doing this, a couple of which are outlined here. Understanding the concerns of a defense and exploiting those concerns are valuable techniques any good coach will insert into his baseball drills.
Pressure Cooker #1 - Run Like the Wind:
Don't skip this part because you, your son, or the team you coach has little speed. You don't need any to understand this concept. The more offensive movement is created on the base paths, the more potential there is for defensive mistakes. Create movement the following ways:
A. Bigger lead offs. Most youth baseball players don't get a proper lead off at any base. Because of this, the defense doesn't feel the perceived threat of the runner. How long is a good lead? A runner should be able to rotate and dive (body fully extended) back to the bag in time if he is watching the right movements from the pitcher. Getting aggressive leads will do two things. First, it will force the pitcher to split concentration between the runner and the hitter. This will help out the hitter as pitch location may improve with the lack of focus from the pitcher. Secondly, the more throws drawn by the runner at first base (primarily) can results in potential overthrows as well as an increased opportunity to utilize a stolen base or a hit and run play.
B. Take aggressive turns on the bases. I frequently see many younger players after hitting a baseball, jog down to first base and take a small turn around first. This puts zero pressure on the defense. The first goal on any hit to the outfield is to reach second base. The mentality that every hit is a double will help runners become more aggressive. Obviously I'm not advocating running bases wildly, I'm simply promoting adding some extra heat on the defense to provoke some mistakes.
Pressure Cooker #2 - Have a Pitch Plan
It's quite common to watch hitters all the way through high school swing at pitches quite out of the zone. Most of the time this is caused from a lack of a game plan, or improper teaching during baseball drills. Each hitter should have a specific pitch plan based upon his hitting strengths. Every hitter has a special pitch, or one that is more favorable to hit than others. This needs to be the focus early in the count. No other pitches should be offered at early in the count other than the favorite pitch. The only thing that would change this scenario would be if a coach called some sort of offensive play.
A more selective approach to hitting will put pressure on defensive two different ways:
A. More pitches will be thrown by pitchers which will (hopefully) force a pitching change earlier in the game. Since more relievers in youth baseball are not as good as starters, this is a plus for the offense.
B. Getting better pitches to hit will create more baseballs in play. The more balls hit hard there are, the greater chance there is for a mistake by the defense.
Finally, there is no secret that perceived pressure causes more mistakes. If an offense can manufacture pressure and remain confident in doing so, they will enjoy watching an error filled defense play more timid and give games away.
Nate Barnett is owner of BMI Baseball designed to improve the mental game of baseball in athletes. Learn how to help your game by improving the skill of mental baseball
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