For an infielder, a slowly hit ball, or a “slow roller,” can be one of the most difficult plays to make. You must charge the ball hard, field it and deliver a strong, accurate throw while on the run.
When working on slow rollers, the best way to progress is in threes. For each ground ball, walk, jog and then run through the footwork when making the play. Walking through the footwork allows you to freeze upon contact and see where your hands are in relation to your feet when you field the ball.
Getting the footwork down when making the throw is the toughest part of fielding slow rollers, but it’s also the most crucial. Picking up speed and progressing to a jog keeps you in your comfort zone as a fielder. Finish with full-speed repetitions. (Make it routine.)
From an infielder’s standpoint, there are three different ways to field a slowly hit ball, all of which are dictated by the ball’s speed and hops.
If the ball is still bouncing, use this method. You will field the ball inside your left leg (usually no lower than mid-shin), so you can transfer quickly and make the throw on your next step, using your right foot to plant.
If you cannot make the throw on your next step, it will actually cost you three extra steps, because you have to make the throw off your right leg. This applies to all three fielding methods.
With Your Glove
This is the only way to make the play on a harder hit ball that is still rolling on the ground. In this case, you will field the ball on the outside of your glove-side foot, similar to how an outfielder fields a ground ball to make a close play at the plate. Instead of taking a direct route to the ball and making a throw falling away from first base (which many fielders tend to do), first round off the ball by taking a diagonal step to the right. This will line your body up toward first base, allowing for a stronger, more accurate throw with less strain on your arm. Again, you want to make the transfer and throw by the time your right foot hits the ground so you can use it to plant for a stronger throw.
This is a last-chance, do-or-die play where the fielder wants to get to the ball as quickly as possible. In this situation, there is no need to round off the ball, because each step wasted is another step for the base runner. When fielding slow rollers with their bare hands, too many players try to pick the ball up with their index and middle fingers already around the seams—i.e., with their throwing grip. The problem with this it that they usually cannot get low enough to the ground to field it cleanly, and they might overrun the ball. The solution is to field the ball with your middle and ring fingers and your pinky. This lets you use your entire hand to pick up the ball, giving you more margin for error. Once you field it, find your grip and make the throw the next time your right foot hits the ground.
The following drill is great for improving technique to handle those tricky slow rollers. Remember to progress in threes: first by walking through it, then moving at a jog and finally finishing with a full sprint.
Place a ball on top of a 12-to-15-inch cone to simulate a bouncing ball in mid-air at mid-shin height. Start in your normal fielding position, then walk, jog, or sprint to the cone. Field the ball off the cone and make a throw. Also use cones to designate the path you should take to the ball. This will force you to round off the ball and get in line for the throw to first base.