Softball

Syracuse players are using slap hitting to get on base

Jordan Phelps | Staff Photographer

Sammy Fernandez used to bat righty, now she slaps lefty to get a head start to first base.

Sixty feet isn’t a long distance separating Syracuse batters from first base. With a running start, it’s even easier to beat the ball to the bag. That’s why centerfielder Kelsey Johnson started slap hitting the day she began playing softball.

“My dad knew I was never going to be a big girl, a big power hitter in my life,” Johnson said. “Because obviously, I am 5-6. I’m not going to get too big. It was just a better way for me to play softball get more success. Slapping and running to get on base.”

Johnson and starting shortstop Sammy Fernandez use slap hitting most often for Syracuse (26-17, 7-10 Atlantic Coast). Fernandez hits leadoff and her .352 batting average is good for fourth on the team. Johnson is mainly used in the outfield, but when she bats, she slaps. With 42 runs and 16 stolen bases between the two slappers, the key is making contact with the ball. After that, their legs do the work.

“It is simply speed. You have to be able to get down the line,” SU head coach Mike Bosch said. “If the stopwatch says that you can do that (slapping) is something you can explore.”

Slap hitting is a different technique of hitting used by fast lefties in softball. When slapping, a player’s feet are already moving toward the first-base line while still trying to hit the softball. Once contact is made the player’s left foot will fully swing through toward first base and they begin their sprint, a step or two ahead of a normal better.

The concept of slap hitting appealed to Fernandez’s style of play so perfectly she switched her batting side. Toward the end of her sophomore season in high school she began standing lefty in the batter’s box just so she could be two steps closer to first base when she laid down a bunt. She started with a bunt, then advanced to a drag bunt before working through the different kinds of slapping.

“(My dad and I) just figured it would be smarter so I could use my speed since I don’t have much power,” Fernandez said. “I don’t hit home runs anyway I might as well just turn into a lefty.”

There are different methods to slap hitting. First there is the soft slap, in which the batter pokes at the ball to slowly have it land where the fielders aren’t. These hits often result in dribblers down the third-base line. The second is the hard slap. This tactic utilizes a hard ground ball or line drive to force the defense into a mistake. The final is the power slap. This strategy combines the two other ideas as the batter attempts to hit the ball as hard as possible but also into the outfield.

Both of Syracuse’s slap hitters prefer the power slap as a result in the shift of the defense. Since the ball usually doesn’t travel far off a slapper’s bat, the defense shifts in to play the ball as quickly as possible. If the defense can’t make a fast, clean play on the ball, a slapper’s speed will prevail on the base paths.

Fernandez and Johnson are adjusting when teams try to defend their slap hitting. In a game against Florida State two weeks ago, the defense shifted and Fernandez seized the opportunity. Fernandez watched the center fielder shift in, ready to defend the ground ball up the middle that Fernandez had already reached base with. This time, Fernandez drove the ball well over the Florida State player’s head and into the fence. She earned a standing double.

The deep shot wasn’t a usual hit for Fernandez. It’s the part of her game she wants to improve on. But for now, she’ll keep getting on base with slap hitting.

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