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Baseball Coaches Newsletter - Feb. 2008

Rundowns: Coaching Point and Tips

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Rundowns*

From Gold Glove Baseball by American Baseball Coaches Association
When a runner is picked off base, he often gets caught in a rundown between the base he occupied and the base he wants to advance to. Defensive execution of the rundown play is critical in taking advantage of the opportunity to record an out. Failure to practice this play regularly results in embarrassing miscues and runners safe on base. With proper practice, the execution of the rundown is quick and effective, with few throws required.

The goal of the defensive team is to limit the number of throws to one or two. In the event the runner ends up safe, you always want that runner safe at the base he originally occupied.

To learn how to execute a successful rundown, first note these details. You want to split the base path into two lanes--the lane between the bases for the runner and an inside lane for the defenders. Always give the runner the lane between the bases. The defender with the ball and the receiving defender should occupy the lane on the infield side of the base. This ensures that there will be no throwing over, or around, the runner and gives the defenders a clear path to make the throw, whether they throw with the left or right hand.

Once the throw is made, the defender should always break in toward the pitching-mound side of the infield and advance to the base he was heading to in case he needs to take another throw. Again, doing this prevents collisions with the runner and a possible interference call.

Fielders must never dance with the runner. That is, the defender with the ball should never speed up or slow down with the runner. Running hard at the runner forces the runner to commit to one direction and prevents him from dictating the rundown. If he slows down, the defender with the ball can either catch him and make the tag or feed the ball to the receiving defender as he begins running hard toward the runner to receive the throw.

The guidelines that follow increase the chance of successfully executing the rundown with a limited number of throws.

  • Always run hard at the runner with the ball in the air, forcing the runner to commit. Getting the runner to run hard makes it more difficult for him to stop and change direction quickly and gives the receiving defender a better chance to catch the ball and tag the runner. Even the fastest runners have difficulty changing directions when forced to go hard one way.
  • Always look at the defender receiving the ball, not at the runner, to see when he moves his feet, signaling that he wants the throw. If you’re running hard at the runner and force him to commit to run hard, it’s easier for the receiving defender to judge when he needs to take off to receive the throw. By looking at the receiver, the defender with the ball will see the receiver’s feet move, which is the signal to deliver the ball.
  • To feed the ball, simply execute a soft snap-throw aiming at the receiver’s chest. This throw must be accurate and easy for the receiver to catch because it will allow him to continue moving toward the runner without slowing down to receive the throw.
  • The receiver should never slow down to receive the throw. Once he moves his feet to begin running to receive the throw, he must continue gaining ground and momentum toward the runner. If the runner is able to change direction, the receiving defender will have enough momentum to catch even the quickest runner and apply the tag.



Every team should work on the rundown during practice. For such a seemingly easy play, several parts must be perfected to execute it properly. Everything from the feeds to proper execution and timing to receiving the throw and making the tag must be rehearsed repeatedly so that they come automatically in game situations. Figures 6.10, 6.11, 6.12, and 6.13 illustrate the most common rundown plays.

Once a runner is picked off, the pitcher must follow his throw to first base (figure 6.10). If the runner is not tagged out by the first baseman during the rundown or by the middle infielder who receives the throw from the first baseman, the pitcher must be in position at first base to receive the throw from the middle infielder as he forces the runner back toward first base. This is the only pickoff play in which the pitcher will run to the base he attempted the pickoff to. On pickoffs at second base, the pitcher will run to third base; on pickoffs at third base, he runs to home plate. The outfielders play an important role in backing up bases as well. On pickoffs to first base, the left fielder and center fielder back up second base in case of an errant throw, and the right fielder must hustle to back up first base in case a ball gets away and ends up coming down the first-base line or hitting the fence in foul territory.

In the play shown in figure 6.11, the runner at first has been picked off while taking his secondary lead, or he deliberately drew the pickoff throw to create a situation in which the runner at third base could potentially score during the rundown. When the runner at first base delays running after being picked off, the second baseman should run directly to the baseline to shorten the distance between himself and the first baseman, creating a shorter running lane and a shorter throw. This will speed up the rundown process, making it more difficult for the runner at third base to get a good jump in his attempt to score. The outfielders need to back up the bases: left fielder backs up third base, center fielder backs up second base, and right fielder backs up first base.

Another possible first-and-third rundown play occurs when the runner at first base breaks early while the pitcher is in his set position. When this happens, the second baseman must again run directly to the baseline to receive the throw from the pitcher and shorten the distance of the running lane. The pitcher should step off the rubber, check the runner at third base with a fake throw, then turn and throw the ball to the second baseman who is now in the baseline about 20 to 25 feet from second base. The fake throw toward third base forces the runner back to the base and makes it more difficult for him to get a good jump in his attempt to score on the rundown between first and second base.

In the rundown play after a pickoff to second base (figure 6.12), once the pitcher delivers the ball to second base, successfully picking off the runner, he must run to third base to back up the third baseman. Since there are already two defenders at second base—the shortstop and second baseman—the pitcher doesn’t need to follow his throw to that base. The right fielder and center fielder must back up second base in case of an errant throw. The left fielder backs up third base in case a ball gets away and ends up down the third-base line or against the fence in foul territory.

On the pickoff play to third base (figure 6.13), after delivering the ball to third base and successfully picking off the runner, the pitcher runs to home plate to back up the catcher. The shortstop breaks toward third base and becomes the back up for the third baseman. The catcher must shorten the running lane by moving up the third-base line so a potential tag play at the plate doesn’t happen too near the plate. The third baseman must get the ball to the catcher soon enough so that the runner is forced back to third base. If the rundown doesn’t result in an out, at least it should make the runner retreat to third base rather than allow him to score a run. The left fielder backs up the third baseman in case an errant throw gets by both infielders at third base.

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* To reprint this excerpt with permission from Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., please contact the publicity department at 1-800-747-4457 or publicity@hkusa.com.