Thursday, July 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays catchers will be well-armed with more info, data this season

PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays catchers are going to be armed with more information when they take the field this season.

Specifically by wearing large wristbands containing cards loaded with detailed data, similar to what Jameis Winston and other quarterbacks refer to in calling plays.

But that doesn't mean Wilson Ramos will script Chris Archer's first 15 pitches, or that they'll be running down and outs.

Rays coaches and staff are still working out details of how detailed to make the cards, which will be covered by a flap to shield the info from cameras and wandering eyes of opponents.

Their plan is to focus primarily on information on their own pitchers — rather than scouting reports on hitters — to serve as reminders to their catchers: specific strengths and weaknesses at the time, preferred sequences and options for signs with runners on second.

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"It's more of a second or third line of defense, so to speak," explained third base and catching coach Matt Quatraro. "All of this stuff is going to be covered before the game; this is just a leave-no-stone-unturned kind of thing."

The Rays already were talking about adding the cards, which the Indians and others had been using, and the Mets are also among those joining in, especially to cover their relievers.

Then they went all in with MLB last month announced plans to limit the number of mound visits to six per game, figuring the more info the catchers have, well, on hand, the more likely they can resolve matters without having to wander out.

"The rules implementation really was a big factor, trying to figure out ways to not need to make trips," said Quatraro, who came to the Rays from Cleveland.

Instead, catchers or pitchers can give a sign to change the signs, and save the visits for more strategic purposes later in games.

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"So now when we go out there we'll have more opportunity to talk about the hitters that the pitchers will face and not about the signs," Ramos said. "Everyone has different signs so now I don't have to keep it in my mind what the signs are, I put it on my piece of paper and have it right there."

Non-roster catcher Adam Moore said the cards were definitely a help when he played for the Indians, particularly in getting a pitcher through "a jammed-up inning," though they used them more as mini-scouting reports for opposing hitters, particularly bench players.

Given the Rays plans to rely heavily on their bullpen by using only four starters, and the likely result of frequently shuttling in fresh-armed relievers, the scouting info would seem to be likely to come in hand for both sides of the battery.

(This isn't the first time the Rays are putting data on the field, as their outfielders for years have had cards in their pocket with preferred positioning for each opposing batter in different situations.)

"In having a young (pitching) staff, making sure the catchers know what the strengths of our pitchers are because when games speed up and you have young players you have to expect some of those things to slip through the cracks a little bit," Quatraro said. "It's as much for the pitcher coming in as anything, that they know there is a safety net there instead of 'I hope he knows what I've been doing.' "

While backup catcher Jesus Sucre said he'll welcome the info in keeping the pitchers straight, Ramos is a little concerned of being overloaded with data, preferring to rely on his knowledge and instincts.

"I don't like that every time you're supposed to (look at the cards) for this hitter and this hitter," he said. "I just like to concentrate and keep it in my mind. That's what I've been doing my whole career and it's worked for me. In spring training I concentrate and just pay attention to what they like to throw in different situations and which pitch is more effective."

To which Quatraro says, Don't worry.

And the catchers aren't expected to use the info to frame their game-calling.

"We understand they've done this a certain way for a long time so it's not an easy thing to just be like, Here we go, we're doing this," he said. "We're totally respectful of that so we're going to do everything we can to make it as seamless for them.

"It's not like we expect them to look at it every pitch. They know how to catch. They know how to call a game. We're not trying to reinvent stuff. It's just an extra line of defense."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays

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