Reports that college bats have cooled off this season—purportedly due to the use of the less-lively BBCOR-approved bats—are good news for defensive specialists. With runs down and more games being decided in the late innings, the value of a strong defense is at an all-time high. And because BBCOR bats have less of a trampoline effect than their precursors, hitters are blasting fewer line drives and putting more balls in play that infielders are capable of handling.
Still, you're unlikely to make diving, backhand grabs at the hot corner if you haven't mastered the fundamentals of infield defense.
One "routine" play is the slow rolling ground ball. Whether you're a middle infielder or playing one of the corners, a dribbler can spell trouble if you don't field it properly.
Rule number one: do not field the ball with your throwing hand or "bare-hand" the ball. "That's a complete do-or-die play," says St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker. Even if you field the ball cleanly, you will be off balance, with momentum carrying you forward while you try to make the throw. Chances are your throw will be off target.
The safest play is to scoop up the slow roller with your glove. Charging in, approach the ball to the outside of your glove-side leg. Stay low and keep your eyes on the ball all the way into your glove. Then, shift your weight to your opposite leg and throw the ball to your target, making sure to follow through.
They say the game of baseball is a grind. The consistent plays you make on slow grounders may not make the highlight reel, but they can get your pitcher out a jam or avoid giving up a run late in a ballgame.
To make this play become truly routine, practice charging and fielding ground balls during each on-field session. Mix it up by fielding balls to both sides, and even practice at different positions on the field.
Above, Skip Schumaker offers a demo on how to charge a ground ball.
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