A baseball/ softball pinch runner is someone coming off the bench to replace a runner. Teams use pinch runners late in the game to add more speed to the basepaths, especially when down a run or two. Putting a faster runner on the basepaths increases your scoring chances, which is critical late in a match.
So, why do teams pinch-run players late in the game? What happens to the baseball player that the runner replaces for the remainder of the match? Do pinch runners take the spot in the batting order of that player that they replaced?
Here is everything you need to know about pinch running in baseball and softball.
What are Pinch Runners in Baseball and Softball?
Pinch runners in High School baseball, Minor League Baseball, Major League Baseball, and softball tend to be players with tremendous base-running speed. These players might not be the best at hitting on the team, but they can make that up with their excellent base-running skills.
Pinch runners can also distract the pitcher on the mound due to their speed and a higher chance of stealing a base. Just having a fast runner on the basepaths might cause the pitcher to lose focus, which could cause them to struggle against the batter if they are not 100% concentrated. To do precisely that, some teams will put a faster player on the basepaths to help give a slight advantage to the hitter.
Why Do Teams Pitch Run Late in the Game?
Baseball teams elect to pitch run late in the game to add more speed on the basepaths. For example, there is a game between the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics, and the Athletics are losing by one run in the ninth inning. The A’s get a runner on first base via a single, so they elect to put out a new runner on first who has more speed than the current occupant.
The A’s use the pinch runner because that runner might be able to steal second, which would put that runner in scoring position. If the A’s hitter can hit a single to the outfield, the pinch runner might be able to score directly from that hit due to their speed, which is what the A’s are trying to accomplish.
What Happens to the Player Who Gets Substituted for a Pinch Runner?
The moment a player gets substituted for a pitch runner, they are out of the game. Since that is the case, MLB teams tend to use a pinch runner later in the game to give that starter more plate appearances during the match. MLB teams design their roster to utilize everyone’s strengths, and some players are better at hitting than running bases and vice versa.
What Happens to the Pinch Runner for the Remainder of the Game?
The pinch runner who replaces a player on the field now takes over their defensive position. However, sometimes a pinch runner will replace a catcher when they get to first base, but they can’t catch themselves to start the next inning. The MLB manager will then sub that designated runner out with a backup catcher on defense since they need a catcher to catch. However, this can become an issue if a team does not have a backup catcher, which means teams won’t risk pinch-running for them.
For example, let’s say that there is a game between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers pinch run their catcher in the ninth inning because they are down two runs and need to score at least two runs to continue the game in extra innings. The dodgers end up scoring the two runs, and now the game is in extra innings. At the top of the 10th inning, the pinch runner from the last half will be replaced by a player who can play catcher, if there is one.
Catchers tend to be the slowest players on most teams. After that, the first basemen tend to be the second slowest position on a team.
What is the Difference Between a Pinch Runner and Pinch Hitter?
A pinch runner is a player who comes off the bench to run for a player. A pinch hitter is a player who comes off the bench to hit for a player. After that player performs either role, they can stay in the game or be replaced by another player.
For example, a team might pinch hit a player in the 8th inning with a player who can hit home runs. That pinch hitter hits a single and is now on first base. The manager could then pinch run for that hitter if they have someone who is faster on their roster to increase their chances of scoring a run on the basepaths.
What Do Managers Need to Know about Pinch Runners?
Baseball and softball managers understand that using a pinch runner does two things. First, it removes that player you are replacing, which means they can no longer enter the game again. With that being the case, teams tend to use a pinch runner late in the game since they might want a better hitter to get more at-bats during a game.
The second thing is that the new baserunner must stay in the game or have another player replace them. Replacing them takes away another bench player on your team, and MLB teams only carry a few players on the bench each game. Having a pinch runner take a starting spot and having another player replace them to hit took away two players from playing the rest of the game as the last replacement is now in the game.
How Many True Pinch Runners Do Team Carry?
Every baseball/ softball team is built differently from each other. Some teams tend to be faster than others, which means they will have more players who can run during a match. However, most teams typically carry 1-2 players whose skillset favors running. In addition, teams might carry one universal defensive player and one player who is better at hitting.
How Does the Double Switch Work with Pinch Runners?
As of 2022, National League teams no longer have their pitcher bat. Instead, National League baseball uses the designated hitter rule, the same as the American League. Having a designated hitter means that teams, in theory, have a better hitter at the plate and don’t need to perform the double switch anymore.
Before 2022, the double switch was popular in the National League. A double switch would have two changes coincide with limiting a pitcher from hitting in the next inning.
For example, a team might replace the right fielder with another player, who is more of a pinch runner, to get them into the batting lineup in the ninth spot. Then the new pitcher will take the spot of the new right fielder in the batting order and, let’s say, bat seventh. These switches must occur by informing the umpire of your plan.
Does Pinch Running Help a Consecutive Game Streak for a Player?
According to section 9.23(c) of the official rules of baseball, a player must play defense for one half-inning or come up to bat. Pinch running alone won’t extend the consecutive game streak for a baseball player.
Famous Pinch Runner Moments in Baseball
Most Boston Red Sox fans point to the pinch running of Dave Roberts in game 4 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees as the most significant pinch running moment in baseball. With the Red Sox facing elimination with a loss, Dave Roberts came up as a pinch runner. As a pinch runner, he stole second base and got into scoring position for the hitter. Later on, that hitter at the plate hit the ball up the middle, and Roberts was able to score easily. By tying the game in the ninth, the Red Sox eventually won that game and later on the World Series in 2004.
Conclusion: What is a Pinch Runner in Baseball and Softball?
A pinch runner in baseball / softball is someone who replaces a baserunner once play is officially over. They can only enter the game once a player safely gets a base safely. The manager will then signal to the umpire of the change, and the new baserunner will take over.
Pinch running is a critical part of any baseball match to win games. Teams tend to use a pinch runner late in the game to increase their chances of scoring on a hit. The Dave Roberts steal in the 2004 ALCS was one of those moments. By getting to second base on a steal, Roberts was able to tie the game on a hit.
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