Now that you know how to perfect the squeeze play, let’s discuss another strategic offensive play: the hit and run. The hit and run can be considered a high risk play depending on the individuals who are asked to execute it. However, just like any other designed play, when it is performed successfully it is very difficult to defend.
The hit and run can be used for a variety of reasons, but always occurs when there is a runner on first. As the pitch is delivered, the runner on first breaks for second base. The hitter, in turn, looks to hit the ball through the open hole created by one of the two middle infielders covering second base.
The offensive team is usually looking to generate at least one of two results:
- To avoid the double play
- To advance the runner to third by getting a running start on the pitch
Performing the Hit and Run
Just as with any designed play, everyone involved needs to know the situation and be aware that the coach has put the sign on for the hit and run. The hitter and the baserunner need to acknowledge that they have received the sign. It can be a tip of the helmet, picking up dirt in the hands, bending over to tie a cleat, or just about anything. Once the sign from the coach has been given, and the hitter and runner have acknowledged that they have received the sign, it’s time to execute.
The Runner’s Responsibility
The baserunner really doesn’t have that tough of a job here. All he needs to do is run. But there are some things he needs to be aware of as he makes his break for second. It does not matter if he is the fastest player on the team or the slowest. What does matter is that he waits for the pitcher to commit to home with his pitch. This is not a straight steal. The runner should not be looking to get the best jump possible. Why? Because the hitter should be protecting him by swinging at the pitch. There is no fault on the runner if he is thrown out at second.
After he breaks for second base, the runner should peak back toward home plate to see where the ball is put in play. Was the ball hit on the ground or was it hit in the air? If he does not see where the ball is hit, the runner leaves himself open to a few baserunning mistakes. What if the ball was hit in the air? What if the batter missed the pitch? The runner needs to know that the situation is fluid and adjust as necessary.
-Break for second only when the pitcher has committed to home plate. You should never be picked off when the hit and run is on.
-After your first three steps, peak back at the batter to see where the ball has been hit and adjust accordingly.
– Don’t let the middle infielders fool you. A good short stop or second baseman will try to “deek” you by pretending the ball was hit on the ground when it’s really in the air. They may also try to make you believe it was hit in the air to get you to freeze in the base path, when really the ball was hit through the hole for a base hit.
-As you reach second base, make sure to pick up your third base coach to see if he is signaling for you to advance to third.
The Hitter’s Responsibility
Most coaches will not try to execute a hit and run unless the hitter is someone who makes consistent contact at the plate. A player who swings and misses a lot significantly lowers the chance of executing the play successfully. Knowing this, the hitter should realize his job is to protect the runner. Not get a base hit (although a plus). Not take a pitch for a ball.
This means that the hitter will be swinging at virtually any pitch. Strike. Ball. Fastball. Curveball. It doesn’t matter. (The only pitch the hitter is allowed to take is one in the dirt.) We’re trying to advance the runner into scoring position. Remember, the runner is not looking to get a good jump. Rather he is making sure the pitcher commits to home before taking off for second. By not swinging the bat, you are allowing the catcher to get a quality throw down to second. This will most likely result in the runner being thrown out, and now there is nobody in scoring position. Even if you miss the pitch, the catcher has to take an extra moment to come out of his squat to attempt his throw because he does not want to be struck by the bat.
What does the ideal situation look like? A good ballplayer will know which middle infielder is covering second base on the steal and attempt to hit the ball on the ground through the newly created hole. This allows the runner to advance to third more easily, and also gives the hitter a base hit. No matter what, the hitter needs to get the ball on the ground. A fly ball negates the play all together, or worse, turns it into a double play for the defense.
–Swing the bat! Your job is to protect the runner. (Even if it’s a pitch out.)
-Know whether the SS or 2nd baseman is covering second base on the steal and attempt to hit the ball through the newly created hole.
– Keep the ball out of the air. Hit the ball on the ground. The runner has a head start, so even a routine groundball is unlikely to turn into a double play. If you get thrown out at first, no big deal. You did your job. A base hit is just a bonus.
A well-executed hit and run can be the spark for a big inning. A poorly executed hit and run can spell disaster and turn a potentially big inning into nothing but a momentum swing for the other team. Coaches, be smart when calling this play. For a higher chance of success, wait for a hitter’s count, a consistent contact hitter, and even for a baserunner who has decent speed. Players, don’t get upset that you have been called upon to perform. This is your chance to help your team. Be a team player and execute.