Brad Ausmus imparts some wisdom before leading new drill. (USA TODAY Sports)
Pickoff attempts at first base are standard around the game and can be a vital part of a gameplan to slow down base stealing threats. Pickoff attempts at second base are also common and can include both the second baseman and shortstop being used to catch runners offguard. But pickoff plays at third base are rarely, if ever, attempted at the big level.
In Little League, and maybe as far up as high school baseball, those types of plays are semi-regular. But it's not something that's taught or emphasized in the minor leagues and certainly not the major leagues. The now defunct fake-to-third, throw-to-first pick attempt is the closest thing we've had to a regular pickoff play involving third base at those levels.
Despite those realities, Ausmus was eager to get his pitchers familiar with the idea and the process on the first day of camp. The third base pickoff was among the four drills he had pitchers running during their initial workouts.
“We discussed some parameters of it,” Ausmus said. “A lot of these guys have never done that before. So we wanted to expose them to it.
“Quite frankly, there will be some guys that aren’t comfortable with doing it, and you eliminate it for those guys. But defensively, it’s a weapon.”
The biggest concerns for the pitchers will be their footwork and hitting a moving third baseman with a good throw. Of course, whoever the Tigers have manning third base on a given day will have to be equally comfortable as they’ll be required to know the sign and give the pitcher a good target while on the move.
When you analyze it, the play almost sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Unlike an errant pickoff throw at the other bases, a bad throw here guarantees a run. That adds quite a bit of risk, but Ausmus seems determined to gain any and every small advantage he can.
Along those same lines, Ausmus also introduced a drill brought over from the San Diego Padres called “rag ball.” It involves coaches standing 60-feet, six inches away from pitchers and hitting whistling liners back in their direction. But instead of using a baseball, they use a product called IncrediBall, which is much softer and safer.
“It’s for pitchers to react to balls hit right back at them without the risk of being hit in the face,” Ausmus said. “It can be tough.”
A safety drill that doubles as a fielding drill. Or vice versa.
Either way you look at it, it’s another creative drill geared towards giving the Tigers a small advantage over their opponents. The effect of these drills may not show up frequently, but it only takes one extra out in one close ballgame for them to have made a difference. That’s exactly what Ausmus is looking for — one extra out, one extra win.
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