Share This Page

Pirates pitchers told to hold runners better this season

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 11:30 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jonathan Sanchez holds the ball on the mound with runners on the corners during a game against the Red Sox on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner
Pirates catcher Michael McKenry works on ball blocking drills at home plate before a game against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2013 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Tony Watson looks over to first base at a runner during a game against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2013 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates catcher Russell Martin works on ball blocking drills at home plate before a game against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2013 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon throws to first base against the Red Sox on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates catchers took a lot of heat last season for the team's inability to control the running game. Opposing base-stealers had an 89 percent success rate, making the Pirates by far the easiest team in the majors to run against.

However, manager Clint Hurdle doesn't point a finger at the guys behind the plate.

“It's never all on the catcher,” Hurdle said. “It's more on the pitcher. There were times when our catchers had no chance.”

That's why Pirates pitchers have been working from the first day of spring training on ways to keep runners in check. Being quicker to home plate is a good place to start.

“If you can unload at 1.3 (seconds), we should have a chance to throw them out,” Hurdle said. “When you go 1.4 (seconds), you've really decreased your odds. When you're over that, you really have no chance.”

There are other ways to frustrate a baserunner. Holds, slide steps, throws to the bag and varied tempo can cause shorter leads and poorer jumps.

“It's about paying attention to it, understanding why it's important and then going out and actually executing it,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “That is going to be a focus for us this year.”

Although Hurdle stresses the pitchers are most responsible for any improvement, the addition of catcher Russell Martin also should help. Over seven seasons, Martin has thrown out 30 percent of baserunners.

“It's done as a team,” Martin said. “If the pitchers hold runners, vary their times and are quicker to the plate, we're going to have a better chance of throwing guys out. It helps if you have a catcher who can catch and throw, as well.”

When right-hander James McDonald was on the mound last year, opponents were successful in 12 of 16 steal attempts. So far this spring, he's put a lot of effort into controlling runners, even when he's not on the mound.

“If I'm playing catch or doing a PFP (pitchers fielding drill), I'll hold, hold, hold so I feel comfortable doing it,” McDonald said. “That way, when I'm on the mound, it doesn't feel awkward. It's really helped.”

So far, the results have been mixed. McDonald has at times struggled with his command when pitching out of the stretch.

“Controlling the running game is good,” McDonald said. “But I think there are some situations when you've got to make (executing) pitches the key focus.”

Hurdle disagreed.

“They're not always going to hit their spots or make that wipeout pitch,” Hurdle said. “That's what we've seen in the second half of the past two seasons. We had a lot of situations in the first half when things could've gotten complicated, but we made pitches to get out of it. We didn't make those same pitches later.

“It is a touch and a feel. It's part of the package that they're trying ... no, not trying — they're going to improve. There will be times when they get no sign, and we sell out to the pitch. We'll do that when it's appropriate.”

But, more often than not, keeping the runner grounded will come first.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.