Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

What do MLB players talk about when they meet at the mound?

PORT CHARLOTTE — In the first inning of his first big-league start, Rays pitcher Chris Archer received his first mound visit. It came from first baseman Carlos Peña, a frequent flier between his position and the mound.

The Nationals, playing in their home park, scored three runs that inning, though only one was earned. At one point, sensing the kid was rattled, Peña called for time and jogged to the mound.

Archer remembers Peña saying something along the lines of, "Look, you're in the big leagues, too. Doesn't matter what name is on the back of the jersey. You're here. You're a big leaguer just like them. You're an equal."

Archer agreed. He settled down and pitched six innings, holding the Nats scoreless over the final five.

Brief get-togethers like that are now in jeopardy since Major League Baseball capped mound meetings this season at six per game per team.
Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph is not a fan.

"It's not just wasting time or giving the catcher some TV time," he said. "The idea is for the pitcher to go nine innings and nobody goes out there."

But they do meet at the mound, and meet often enough for MLB to identify it as a problem when it comes to pace of play.

Again, Joseph scoffs.

"It takes all of 10 seconds," he said. "You run out there, say what you have to say and run back."

Just what is said during those brief meetings when the pitchers and catchers cover their mouths with their gloves and mitts?

You may be disappointed to learn it is not like the most famous mound meeting of all, the one in Bull Durham, where Crash Davis leads the discussion on what to buy Millie and Jimmy for their wedding and where to find a live rooster to lift the curse off Jose's first baseman's mitt.

"Rarely do you actually have the Bull Durham scene," Joseph said. "Most of that stuff kind of happens in the minor leagues when everybody is still learning."

In the majors they discus more mundane matters, such as the catcher detects a flaw in the pitcher's delivery or they want to change signs since there is a runner on second base or they want to quickly review how they will pitch to the batter.

"As a catcher you put down a signal and the pitcher shakes (it off)," said Rays manager Kevin Cash, a former catcher. "Sometimes, as the catcher, you think this is the pitch he should throw. I'm going to go out there and talk about it and try to convince him. If not, I'm going to walk back there and let him throw what he wants."

"Sometimes," Joseph said, "you'll go out there and say, 'Hey, we're going to throw a slider in the dirt and if he doesn't swing, we're going to go fastball inside.' You're making sure they know the plan in really tight situations, like late in the game when one swing can beat you."

Rays pitcher Jake Faria said former pitching coach Jim Hickey was short and direct during his visits.

"He'd say, 'What are you thinking here? Let's all be on the same page.' His visits were never long," Faria said. "It was really quick, 'Hey, what are you doing?' Boom. Gone."

Archer said former third baseman Evan Longoria would occasionally visit to remind him what to do if the ball is hit back to the mound.

"He'd say the runner (on first) is slow so you have a play at second," Archer said.

Keep in mind, too, an infield can be a melting pot of nationalities.

"We have Spanish-speaking players. We have Korean players. We have Japanese players," Joseph said. "Sometimes we go out there just to make sure we're on the same page, because there still are language barriers."

A pitcher who is struggling will often get a visit from a catcher or veteran infielder.

"Sometimes a guy just needs a breather," Rays pitcher Jonny Venters said.

And sometimes the situation calls for a little levity.

"I've gone to the mound and told a joke," Rays third baseman Matt Duffy said. "But not since I was in the minors."

"Sometimes I'll say, 'You scared? You nervous?' " Rays catcher Jesus Sucre said. "They say, 'You kidding? I'm not scared.' I say, 'Okay, let's go.' "

Faria recalled once hearing that former Angels shortstop Erick Aybar went to the mound when pitcher Jerome Williams was in a jam and asked Williams for the name of a good place to eat after the game.

"I've never had anyone do that to me," Faria said. "I don't know. Maybe no one wants to have dinner with me."

Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow @rogermooney50.

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