Baseball Coaching Digest: Defending the First and Third Early Break Play

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One of the plays that teams will run with runners at first and third base is to have the first base runner early break. This article outlines this play and the best ways to defend against it.

You have seen the play ran over and over. There are base runners on first base and third base. The runner at first base break early before the pitcher even begins his motion. The pitcher steps off, throws the ball to the second baseman the runner breaks back toward first base. The second baseman throws the ball to the first baseman. The runner at third, who has been creeping slowly down the line, breaks for home, when the second baseman releases the ball. The first baseman catches the ball, turns to throw to the plate, the ball arrives late, the third base runner scores. How do you stop this play?

To know defend this play you must first know why the offensive runs it and what their goals are. The offensive team's goals in order of priority are:

  1. Score the runner at third with a late throw to the plate. If your pitcher throws the ball to the middle infielder, the runner at third will in most cases break for home when the ball leaves the middle infielders hand. The indemnity knows that the first baseman must catch the ball, turn, and throw. In most cases, that process takes too long. The throw home will always be late.
  2. Score the runner at third with a balk. – Another goal of the early breaking runner at first base is to force the pitcher to balk. This action would move both runners and score the run.
  3. Get both runners into scoring position without a threat of the first base runner being thrown out. The offensive team knows that the defense will not contest the early breaking runner, so they use this tactic as a safe way to steal second and to get both runners into scoring position.

What should the defensive team do to stop the play and to prevent a run form scoring?

Here are the three recommended actions and the results each causes:

  1. Give the base up uncontested. This is the safest method if you feel that your pitcher can get the batter out at the plate. Of course if there are no outs or one out, you may not want to let the runner move to second base without action.
  2. Run a cut play with the pitcher throwing the ball to the second baseman. The second base man will charge toward third base. He will catch the ball throw from the pitcher and immediately throw the ball to the third baseman or run at the third base runner in an attempt to catch him off a bag and to get him out.
  3. Pitcher throws the ball to the second baseman, after checking the runner at third base. The second baseman will not throw the ball to the first baseman but will rather, keep his shoulders turned in a position allowing a throw to the plate, and slowly walk the runner back to first base. There is no throw made that the runner at third base does not have the opportunity to break to home.
  4. The Pitcher full arm fakes to second base and immediately throws to the third baseman. In many cases, the runner at third base will "bite" on the full arm fake to second base and will come off a few steps towards home. This movement toward home is often enough to allow the pitcher to pick him off third or to catch him off third with an opportunity to get an out in a run down situation.

I hope that this article is helpful and informative. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

Have a great day,

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