What is a Pinch-Hitter in Baseball?

A pinch hitter is a substitute that bats for another player. There are a number of reasons why a coach might use one.
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

A pinch-hitter in baseball is a substitute for the starting player at any time during the game. Pinch hitters are usually used to provide a spark to the offense, or to avoid giving up an out by having a weaker hitter batting in place of a better hitter. There are many strategies involved with using pinch hitters, and they can be one of the most important parts of a team’s success.

baseball pinch-hitter

Who Do You Pinch-Hit For?

There are two “who’s” to consider here. For whom do you pinch hit and who does the pinch-hitting. Let’s start with the former.

  • You may consider pinch-hitting for a player who is injured. Perhaps your player gets injured in the field and then cannot appear at the plate. Then you would pinch-hit for that hitter.
  • There are times when a batter may foul a pitch off and get injured. In that case, you may send in a pinch-hitter.
  • It is also possible that your batter may get thrown out of the game for arguing with the umpire before their at-bat is over. In this case, you would pinch hit for them.
  • You might also decide to pinch hit for a batter who is struggling at the plate – or who struggles against a specific pitcher. 

Who Do You Use As a Pinch-Hitter? 

What you decide to use as a pinch-hitter depends on the situation. If you intend for the player to stay in the game and play a position, then you will need to select someone who can field in a defensive position. Is it early in the game? Are you expecting this player to continue in the field and continue to bat? Is it late in the game and the batter won’t have to play the field? Maybe the game is out of reach and you are trying to get a player a few at-bats.  

What Does a Pinch-Hitter Do? 

What a pinch-hitter is expected to do depends on the situation. If you are pinch-hitting for an injured player, most likely your pinch-hitter is going in to not only bat but also play the field. If it is a situation where you have runners in scoring position (RISP) – you might use a pinch-hitter.

If you have a batter on the bench who can add power, or lay down a bunch, or hit from the other side of the plater – that may be the person that you use as a pinch-hitter. The expectations depend on the situation and the players you have available. 

Here’s a great compilation video of pinch-hitters getting walk-off hits.

Where Do You Use a Pinch-Hitter? 

The situations and opportunities to use a pinch-hitter are endless. A pinch-hitter can be used in ANY spot in the line-up. Sometimes, you may pinch-hit for the weakest hitter in your line-up. You may also have to pinch-hit for the power hitter in your line-up if you need someone to bunt or simply make contact with. A pinch-hitter can be used anywhere in the order.

It is important to note that depending on the league, the batter that is pinch-hit for may not be able to reenter. In some cases, starters can reenter the line-up in the same spot one time. However, if the pinch-hitter is removed then they are done for the ballgame. 

When Do You Use a Pinch-Hitter? 

You can use a pinch-hitter at any point in the game. When you choose to use a pinch-hitter depends on your needs. If it is due to injury or discipline, you might need a pinch-hitter early in the game. In most cases, you will use a pinch-hitter in the later innings.

When the opposing coach uses a relief pitcher, it may be to your advantage you use a different batter. In some cases, using a pinch-hitter allows you to warm up a pitcher.

If you have a batter who is slumping early in the game, you might use a pinch-hitter to jumpstart your offense. Pinch-hitting can be done at any point of the game that gives you an advantage. 

Why Do You Use a pinch-hitter? 

As mentioned above, there are several reasons why you might use a pinch-hitter. Injury is one of the biggest reasons early in the game. A player fouling a ball off of their leg, pulling a muscle in their back, or getting injured on the field are just a few examples of how a player could get hurt before their at-bat is over.

Pinch-hitting offers some flexibility to the manager to make their lineup fit their needs. Some coaches may find themselves pinch-hitting a rarely used player in a clutch situation. This allows them the opportunity to evaluate the player in a tough situation and gives the player experience. 

How Do You Use a pinch-hitter? 

Depending on the league there are a couple of ways that you can use a pinch-hitter. Most leagues require the coach to inform the umpire before making a change in the line-up. Many coaches have a plan with different possibilities.

Depending on the scenario they may use a player to pinch-hit if that situation pops up. You will have to decide if the pinch-hitter is a player that you want to keep in the game or if it is just a situational substitution. How you use a pinch-hitter depends on the needs of your team but short term (winning the game) and long term (developing players). 


What is the pinch-hitter rule in baseball? 

The pinch-hitter rule varies for each league. In most leagues, once the pinch-hitter enters the game, the starter is out of the line-up for the duration of the game. In some little league and high school leagues your starter can reenter the game. 

What is the difference between a pinch-hitter and a designated hitter?

A pinch-hitter and designated hitter are not the same. A pinch-hitter is a substitution while a designated hitter is a position in the lineup. A designated hitter is a player who hits, but does not play in the field. A pinch-hitter is someone who could hit for one at bat or stay in the lineup for the rest of the game.
You can pinch-hit for a designated hitter. If you do, that substitute will become the DH. The only limit to the number of pinch-hitters you can use is the number of players you have on the bench. 

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