With a speedy man on second, a hitter lofts a shallow fly ball into the outfield. The outfielder charges in, scoops up the ball and desperately heaves it toward home plate with all his might. If his instincts, timing and the throw are on target, he's a hero, having gunned down the runner and saved a run. And if not? Well, he's a beaten man.
Indians corner outfielders Jason Michaels and Shin-Soo Choo have lived both sides of that equation, and they discussed with Game Face what goes into such plays.
KNOW YOUR STUFF
Instincts are everything for an outfielder in the heat of the moment, and it helps if those instincts are guided by some background knowledge of the runners on the bases and their respective speeds.
At the least, Michaels said, one must figure that the average Major Leaguer has some speed, otherwise he wouldn't be at this level.
"You have to assume they're going to have average to above-average speed," he said.
TRUST YOUR STUFF
A half-hearted heave won't get the job done. Choo, a former pitcher when he was a youngster in Korea, knows this as well as anyone.
"You have to have a lot of confidence in your throw," Choo said. "You play every day and you get the feeling for [your throwing strengths]."
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The positioning of the throw toward home is key, because the cutoff man must be taken into consideration. If the catcher determines that the runner won't be caught and the team is better served to try to nab the hitter at second, he'll yell, "Cut it!" to the cutoff man.
That's why Michaels' line of advice about the throw from the outfield is a good one.
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"You have to make a good, hard, solid throw just above the head of the cutoff man," he said. "The catcher can read and will tell the cutoff man to cut it or not. Don't throw it all the way in the air. Let the catcher read it. I throw as hard as I can, just above the cutoff man's head and let the catcher read it from there."
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT?
Outfield assists are one of those areas of the game that are hard to simulate in pregame workouts, because there isn't a runner involved in such workouts and it's a non-pressure situation. So an outfielder must learn on the fly.
"You play every day and get the feeling for it," Choo said. "I can try throwing to second base or third base or home plate [pregame]. Coaches hit you the ground ball or fly ball, and you try to make good throws after you catch it. But in practice, you have time to relax. At game time, you don't."
Hey, nobody said this job was easy.
"You're in the big leagues," Michaels said. "It's up to you to make the adjustment."
A JOB WELL DONE
For an outfielder nailing a guy at the plate ranks right up there with robbing a home run at the wall in terms of satisfaction on the job.
"Last year in the Minor Leagues, I had 26 assists," Choo said proudly. "I like to throw the guy out, whether I play left field or right field or wherever."
It's a heck of way to get on the good side of your teammates.
"You helped your team," Michaels said. "You saved a run. It's an awesome feeling."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less