Baseball Game Strategy in Later Innings

By doconnell •  Updated: 08/02/14 •  8 min read

The later innings can be very challenging for a baseball coach. “Should I make a pitching change? Should I bunt in this situation? Should I call the infield in and shift the outfield to the right on this batter?” are all questions that might enter a coach’s mind during the late innings of a game. Let’s take a look at some Baseball Coaching Tips for Game Strategy in Later Innings.

#1 The Intentional Walk

When to use it?

When first base is open and there are one or two runners in scoring position (a runner on second, a runner on third or runners on second & third). An intentional walk is usually issued to walk a dangerous batter in favor of facing a less dangerous batter. There is also the double intentional walk. This would be used in an extreme situation such as the winning run is on third base. The purpose of loading up the bases would be to create force play options every where which could allow for an inning ending double play or even triple play. It could be worth the risk especially if the walks are taking dangerous bats out of the equation.

Intentional Walk in Youth Baseball Debate

An entire other article could be written on this topic but I will keep it brief for the interest of this article. The intentional walk in youth baseball is frowned upon by some. There are valid arguments for or against from both sides. The fact is that it is a perfectly legal strategy that is not prohibited by most leagues like Little League Baseball. Personally, I feel as long it is used for traditional strategic purposes and not to make a mockery of the game then I don’t see a problem with it. However, if a player has been issued an intentional walk four times in the same game with no one on the bases then this would be an example of making a mockery of the game.

#2 Infield In

When to use it?

If the bases are loaded with less than two outs or if the winning or tying run is on third then the coach should call the infield to play in on the infield grass. The purpose is for infielders to stop the runner scoring from third on a ground ball.

#3 Outfield Shallow

When to use it?

If the coach is calling the outfield in to play shallow then the game is on the line with the winning run on third. The philosophy of this strategy is that a deep fly ball is going to score the runner from third regardless especially with less than two outs and the runner tagging up. The shallow positioning will allow the outfielders a better chance of throwing the runner out after a base hit or shallow fly ball.

#4 Taking Easy Outs

When to take easy outs?

With every out recorded the team with the lead gets a little bit closer to victory. The later the game gets then the more pressure starts to mount on the trailing team with every out recorded. With that in mind, the coach will have to consider the size of the lead and the inning when making the decision to focus on taking easy outs.

What exactly is taking an easy out?

For example, the defense has a three run lead in the last inning. There is a runner on first with no outs. The batter hits a ground ball to the first baseman who fields the ball a few feet away from the base. The first baseman could start a double play or simply walk over to first and take the easy out. There is now a runner in scoring position but so what. The defense still has a three run lead and the all important first out of the last inning recorded. Sure, the first baseman could have attempted to turn a double play but what if the throw ended up in center field? Any type of error would have created the potential tying run coming to the plate with no one out!

#5 Trading Runs for Outs

When to trade runs for outs?

Again, every out closer to victory is that much more pressure that is placed on the trailing team. With that in mind, a coach can choose to take outs instead of trying to prevent runs from scoring. For example, the defense has a two run lead in the last inning. There is a runner on third with one out. The coach could have the infield play at normal depth to focus on the force out at first base. A ground ball could produce the second out while the run scores. A one run lead with two outs is a pretty good spot to be in for the defense.

#6 Pitching Change

Making a pitching change can be a very difficult decision to make for a baseball coach and especially late in the game. There is honestly not an exact science to help make the decision either. What can help a coach make a decision is simply knowing the pitching staff and what they are capable of. The coach must also be able to recognize when a pitcher is “out of gas” or just doesn’t “have it” anymore.

#7 Stealing Bases

Using the stolen base as a weapon in the late innings of tight ball games should be used with extreme caution. The stolen base is great for getting baserunners in scoring position but in later innings the outs become more crucial. For example, in the last inning of a one run game, a runner caught stealing for the second out is a devastating blow.

Delayed Steal

However, using the Delayed steal is one of the best offensive moves that is very under utilized in younger baseball. Its amazing at catching the other team off guard, and learn how to capitalize on this skill below.

#8 Sacrifice Bunt

When to use a sacrifice bunt?

There must be less than two outs and preferably no outs. A bunt is a great way to move runners into scoring position. Usually the bunt will result in an out at first which is why the bunt is called a sacrifice. However, a well placed bunt will be a lot more effective in moving a runner than a strike out or an infield pop up. For example, in the last inning of a one run game with no outs, the batter bunts and advances the runner from first to second. The team now has one out with a chance to tie the game with a base hit.

#9 Taking Until the Pitcher Throw a Strike

In a tight game, an offense can put the pressure on a pitcher by being selective at the plate and taking pitches. A coach can instruct all players to take pitches until the get a strike. In high pressure, late inning situations this commonly leads to the pitcher throwing more pitches than usual, good hitters counts, walks and errant pitches with runners on base.

Even if the “take sign” is not on, being selective at the plate in late innings is a good strategy. For example, if the pitcher starts the batter with a ball up and out of the strike zone then it might be a good idea to hold off offering at a pitch until the pitcher can throw a strike. This is also called making the pitcher “work.”

#10 Running the Bases with Two Outs

The last thing a baseball coach wants to see is a runner tagged out for the final out of a ballgame. Base coaches and baserunners need to become a lot more conservative with two outs which means advancing base to base (station to station) on base hits. Baserunners should not be trying stretching hits into doubles or triples unless it is safe to take the extra base or bases.

Final Thoughts

A baseball coach must realize that game strategy is a little different as the game approaches a conclusion. Strategies can change from aggressive to conservative, conservative to aggressive or even from traditional to some what unusual. A lot of the decision making will actually be based on the coach’s knowledge of their own team, the opposition and the current game’s patterns. And let’s not forget ,as in all levels of the game, there will be a certain amount of luck and/or “x-factors.”

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