Any time there’s a ball in the gap or down the line that leads to extra bases for the hitter there’s potential for one of the most exciting and entertaining plays in baseball; the relay. Many times when a relay is necessary there’s a momentum type of play happening. We could have a runner trying to stretch their hit into a double or a triple which would give their team a shot of momentum. We could also have a runner trying scoring from 2nd, or even 1st, giving their team an obvious momentum boost if successful. But from a defensive perspective there is no greater momentum stopper, or counter swing, than a successful relay play in those situations to nail a runner taking an extra base or a runner at home trying to score. Defensively, when a relay is performed correctly it’s the ultimate team play. We’ve got an outfielder fielding the ball, throwing to a cutoff man, a cutoff man relaying a throw to a teammate to put a tag on the runner. Mixed in with all of that is the communication between players. As a coach, seeing your team be successful in a relay out is a wonderful thing.
For the purpose of this post, lets focus on the cutoff man in the relay situation. To the untrained eye the relay seems like a simple catch and throw, but in reality the efficiency of the relay man can make or break the play. Efficiency in our movement, receiving, and throwing all set us up for a successful relay for an out. To aide in the efficiency of the cutoff man we have a set of rules to guide us.
- Read ball location and determine your responsibilities
- Present yourself as a big target to the outfielder
- Listen for alignment and directions from teammates
- Active feet to receive the throw on the glove side
- Long hop or no hop throw
Read ball location and determine your responsibilities
This rule is all about understanding the game situation and what we’re called on to do. Where will the play be going? Am I the cutoff man? Is this a double cut situation?
Present yourself as a big target to the outfielder
Make it no secret to the outfield who they should be throwing the ball to. Our hands should be raised. We should be communicating where the throw should be going.
Listen for alignment and directions from teammates
Hopefully our teammates are communicating to us and we’re listening as soon as the ball is put in play. Listen for alignment directions using whatever your team verbiage is. Listen for cutting directions. Do you need to cut and relay, cut and redirect, or just cut and hold?
Active feet to receive the throw on the glove side
If we receive the ball with our feet still we’re not going to be successful. Keep our feet moving and adjust to the throw. Read the throw in the air and go get the dying throw/short hop or give with the strong/long hop throw. Step to the throws that take us left and right as those are automatic cuts, assuming we’re lined up correctly. Wherever the throw we need to use active feet so that we receive it on our glove side. This will place us in the appropriate throwing position. When possible it’s important to receive the throw on our right foot so that we can transfer the ball to the throwing hand, stride and throw all in one motion to get rid of the ball as quick as we can.
Long hop or no hop
The final rule deals with our throws. To make it as easy as possible on our teammate receiving our throw we want to use a long hop or no hop mentality. We either give our teammate a nice long hop to catch and apply a tag or we make a throw in the air so they can apply the tag. We need to avoid short hops or in-between hops as those are the more difficult to catch and apply a tag. When you add a runner sliding into a base those hops become even more difficult.
The 5 Relay Rules above could also be called a checklist. They serve as the framework for all relay situations for infielders in the relay/cutoff man role. Each relay situation will present different demands. Remember to follow your instincts and athleticism to turn one of the most exciting plays in baseball into a momentum shift in the defense’s favor.