Defensive Coverage For Pickoffs
Originally Published in: Coaching Softball Technical and Tactical Skills - Human Kinetics
Pickoffs to Second Base
When a pickoff to second is called, the second-base player must set up a few steps closer to the base without making it too obvious that she will be attempting the pickoff. Using a pitch-up may be more deceptive than using a pitchout because the catcher does not have to step out and vacate her normal position. The runner on second base can see the catcher take the step outside for the pitchout, but the pitch-up may simply appear to be a high pitch. Note that using the shortstop for a pickoff at second base is extremely uncommon in softball unless you are using a radically shifted defensive approach for the hitter. Because the runner cannot lead off until the pitch is released, the runner would see the shortstop moving toward second before she even takes her lead off the base. Also, do not attempt a pickoff to second with a runner at third base because two long throws across the infield gives the runner on third too much time to score.
Pickoffs to Third Base
As with a pickoff to first base, the coverage at third depends on the situation. If the third- base player moves in to defend the bunt, then the shortstop covers for the pickoff. The catcher and shortstop communicate this using a signal and a return signal. Again, the shortstop must cheat over toward third so that she can beat the runner back to the base. The normal ready position for the third-base player in softball is in front of the base, not behind it as in baseball, so if the third-base player is taking the pickoff, she does not try to get back to the base but instead moves toward the baseline and tries to tag the runner as she returns to third. This play does not require the catcher to call a pitchout or pitch-up as long as the third-base player is ready and covering the runner on every pitch. Note, however, that the pickoff at third base is extremely risky because the shortstop takes the throw when the runner is between her and the catcher. The runner could turn into or be hit by the catcher's throw, and would likely be able to score. Practice with runners or decoys in place so that the catcher can work on throwing to the inside part of the field and lead the shortstop accurately.