Thursday, January 19, 2012

Things to Know About Free Pitch

A "free pitch" can have different meanings in baseball and softball. It can refer to a foul ball hit with two strikes, which gives the pitcher another chance at the batter. It can also refer to a pitch that is thrown when the batter steps out of the batter's box without being granted timeout by the umpire. In another sense, a free pitch is one that a pitcher is unofficially given when a batter has a 3-0 count and is unlikely to swing.
The Do-Over
When a batter has two strikes and hits the ball foul, he is allowed to remain at bat and the pitcher gets another chance, or free pitch, to get the batter out. The only way a foul ball can be considered a third strike is if the batter bunts the ball foul. Otherwise, there is no limit on the number of foul balls a batter can hit in Major League Baseball and other organized baseball and softball leagues. However, some amateur leagues do limit the number of foul balls a batter can hit before he is called out.
When the Batter Is Taking
Often when a batter has a count of three balls and no strikes, he is instructed to take the next pitch in hopes that it will be another ball and he'll get to go to first base with a walk. Knowing the batter is likely to take the pitch no matter where it is thrown, a pitcher may consider it a free pitch and throw it right down the middle for a strike. Some baseball experts question whether it is wise to take a pitch at 3-0 knowing a good pitch will come. Often, the manager's trust in the batter's ability to make a good decision at the plate will determine whether the batter will be given the green light to swing away and not give the pitcher a free pitch.
When No Time Out Is Called
Pitchers and batters often take their time in between pitches, but in general the pitchers control the pace of the game. A batter can ask for time out and step out of the batter's box, but if he does not step in promptly, the umpire can call a strike. Similarly, once the batter is in the batter's box and the pitcher is set or is in his windup, the batter cannot call time and step out of the batter's box. If the batter steps out of the box and the umpire has not called time, the pitcher can still throw the ball. While it is effectively a free pitch, the umpire can still call a ball or strike depending on where the pitch is in the strike zone.
When Using a Pitching Machine
Some youth baseball leagues use a pitching machine at the levels before kids starting pitching. To make sure the machine is set to the right speed and location, the batting team's manager can set the machine for one free pitch at the start of each half inning to make sure the pitches are strikes. The Aztec Youth Baseball League in New Mexico, for example, uses a pitching machine set at 45 mph for its Rookie League players, who are 5 and 6 years old

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