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Baseball Notes

Let’s keep rule change off our plate, please

By Nick Cafardo
May 29, 2011

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Catchers are catchers because they are willing to be leaders and sacrifice their bodies. You never want to see the elite ones such as Joe Mauer and Buster Posey miss a lot of time because of injuries, but that’s the nature of the position.

We’re sure that someone in the San Francisco front office last week raised the question, “Is having Posey catch worth the risk?’’

Posey was involved a terrible home-plate collision with Florida’s Scott Cousins that resulted in a broken leg, and he will likely miss the remainder of the season.

Posey is a fine hitter who could help his team as a first baseman or third baseman. But his value is in handling a pitching staff, bringing toughness to the position, and exuding leadership, simply because he is a catcher — much like a quarterback in football.

“These guys who catch are animals,’’ said a National League talent evaluator. “People are going to get hurt, but unless the guy is heading into his 30s or shows signs he can’t catch anymore, you have to keep these guys behind the plate. That’s where they’re the most valuable.’’

The Posey injury has already brought outcries for rule changes to protect the catcher. It is understandable when they come from his manager, Bruce Bochy, and his agent, Jeff Berry.

But do we really want to change the way the game is played?

Do we want to ban home-plate collisions because a catcher was hurt? No headfirst slides? No launching your body to dislodge the ball?

In other words, do what the NFL does and legislate where the quarterback can be or can’t be hit? Those rule changes have become a joke in football.

There’s no way baseball can do this. “It’s part of baseball,’’ said Bochy, a former catcher. “I understand that guys run into catchers.

“I do think we need to consider changing the rules here a little bit because catchers are so vulnerable. Here’s a guy who’s popular in baseball. Fans want to see him play and know he’s out for a while.

“So I’d like to see something considered where we can protect these guys a little. They just don’t have that protection to take a guy coming in full speed with that kind of force.’’

Bochy is correct about catchers taking the full brunt, but they also block the plate when runners are coming in hard to the point where the runner can seriously hurt himself as well. Should we ban catchers from doing that?

The argument has been made that at no other base does the runner launch his body at the fielder without trying to slide into the base first. Not true. When runners are trying to break up double plays, are they always near the base?

Baseball is perhaps the least violent of the major sports.

There is an occasional collision when outfielders converge on fly balls and run into each other. Baserunners try to break up double plays and knock the ball out of a catcher’s mitt. But there aren’t many scenarios in which there is violent contact.

When they do occur, they’re exciting. We watch to see how well the catcher blocks the plate, how hard the runner slides, and whether the catcher can hold the ball. As dangerous as that play may be, it’s exciting to watch.

Cousins didn’t mean to hurt Posey; he was just trying to do his job.

“It’s awful, but it’s part of the game and you have to play it as hard as you can,’’ said Cousins. “That’s why I’m here.

“You wish his legs could come out from under him and he could roll over, get up, dust himself off, maybe even say something to me mean. I’ll take it, but you don’t want to see his leg get broken. It’s the worst.’’

Cousins tagged from third on a short fly to right-center, and Nate Schierholtz’s throw short-hopped Posey, who never had possession of the ball. Cousins saw Posey turning to tag him; the catcher’s left ankle didn’t roll and his body folded back.

One scout had an interesting perspective on the play.

“It speaks of how poorly outfielders throw the ball, too,’’ he said. “Can anyone throw the ball to the plate in the air? That should not have been a one-hop throw. If it was a good throw on the money, right to Posey, we wouldn’t be talking about this subject right now.’’

It was good to see MLB vice president of field operations Joe Torre immediately indicate that he would not likely seek rule changes. As he pointed out, this type of play has been around for a long time. It came to the forefront in 1970 when Pete Rose bowled over Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game, a play that hurt Fosse’s very promising career.

Even Fosse, now an Oakland A’s broadcaster, told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle after the Posey injury that there’s no way any rule change should be imposed.

“The idea is to score runs,’’ said Fosse. “If the catcher has the ball and he’s standing there, the runner has to stop? Is that the protection? I can’t believe anything can be done, and I don’t see how you could regulate something like that.’’

Catchers understand that there are plays they must make that could jeopardize their careers. Just as the quarterback who hangs in the pocket until the last second knows that a 300-pound lineman or blitzing linebacker may crush him.

Mauer and Posey are players fans love watching. They love them because they’re catchers who can hit, who lead, who have the respect of other players. Would it be the same if they were first basemen or designated hitters? Remember when Carlton Fisk moved to left field? It wasn’t the same.

When incidents such as the Cousins-Posey collision happen, there will always be discussion. Is it worth the risk of having him catch? Yes it is.

DON’T LOOK BACK
It’s all simply part of the deal It’s the old “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’’

Regrets? Of course. General managers have them all the time.

From the moment Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein sent Justin Masterson to the Indians in a 2009 trade deadline deal for Victor Martinez, he has tried to get him back. Masterson had great appeal to the Sox as a reliever/spot starter, sort of the old Derek Lowe role.

Masterson struggled mightily as a starter in his first 1 1/2 seasons with the Indians, at one point losing 11 straight decisions before finishing strong with a 3-3 record and 2.86 ERA in a starting/bullpen role the last two months of last season.

This season, he looks as if he’s been pitching for 10 years. Nothing like maturity.

Recently, this reporter was asked whether the Sox would make the Martinez deal all over again, knowing what Masterson has become and considering the potential of Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price, the other pitchers the Sox gave up (both relievers are in Double A). The answer is yes.

What all GMs hope is that a deal works out well for both teams.

It must be tough for Epstein to see Hanley Ramirez as one of the best players in the game. Or to see the recent performance of Marlins righthander Anibal Sanchez, another big piece in the Josh Beckett-Mike Lowell deal.

Yet, if the GM-by-committee that was running the team during Epstein’s brief absence hadn’t pulled the trigger, the Red Sox wouldn’t have won the 2007 championship. Beckett and Lowell each played a huge role.

One supposes we’ll be watching Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, and Reymond Fuentes — the three amigos sent to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal — in the big leagues someday.

Rizzo is hitting .367 with 14 homers and 56 RBIs for the Tucson Padres in Triple A, and seems close to getting a call-up. The big lefthanded-hitting first baseman could be the next, dare we say, Adrian Gonzalez?

Kelly is 4-1 with a 3.83 ERA at Double A San Antonio, and Fuentes, a center fielder and another former No. 1 pick, is hitting .302 with 17 stolen bases in Single A.

But once a deal is done, you can’t look back.

WHAT’S UP, DOC?
Injuries are out of control We are waiting for the next breakthrough in injury prevention for pitchers. They are getting hurt at a high rate, so whatever measures are being used are not working.

You could staff a few All-Star teams with the pitchers who are currently on the disabled list. Pretty significant names such as starters Josh Johnson, Johan Santana, Matt Garza, Stephen Strasburg, Jorge De La Rosa, Brian Matusz, John Lackey, Scott Kazmir, Barry Zito, and Tommy Hunter, and relievers Joe Nathan, Rafael Soriano, Brad Lidge, Jonathan Broxton, Brandon Lyon, Andrew Bailey, and David Aardsma. That’s just skimming the surface.

In an age in which teams handle pitchers with kid gloves, we wonder how, with modern science and pitch counts, this could be.

There are the same old arguments from both sides: the old-timers feel pitchers don’t throw enough and the new wave thinks they throw too much.

There’s also a theory that pitchers don’t have strong legs the way they used to because they don’t run nearly as much, and that creates more stress on the shoulders and elbows.

Of the 70 pitchers we looked at on the DL, 21 had shoulder ailments and 16 elbow problems. In fact, 14, by our count, have either had or are about to have Tommy John surgery.

“Whatever lead we’re taking from modern medicine on this topic, it’s not working,’’ said a National League general manager. “Guys are getting hurt more than ever.’’

Or, some pitchers are going on the disabled list for relatively minor ailments that in years past would not require a 15-day rest.

Some teams are using the DL as an excuse to maneuver the roster, using it for shoulder soreness under the guise of “shoulder inflammation.’’

Right now, only the Orioles, Mariners, Tigers, and Nationals have used only five starters in their rotation, though those teams have had other pitching injuries.

The White Sox have no pitchers on the DL since Jake Peavy returned.

A sign of these strange pitching times: CC Sabathia threw a complete game last Tuesday, and it was the first by a Yankee in 341 starts, an American League record. The major league record was set by the Nationals from 2006-09 with 388 straight games.

The Rangers and Red Sox, to name two, have allowed pitchers to extend themselves. The Rangers have four pitchers on the disabled list, the Sox two.

ETC.
Apropos of nothing 1. Wish I was there to watch as Vanderbilt students Michael Yastrzemski and Kelsey Kaline met for the first time on campus recently. Their grandfathers — Carl and Al — also would have gotten a kick out of it; 2. The Cubs played 10 consecutive night games for the first time in their history; 3. The 19-inning Phillies-Reds game Thursday wasn’t even the longest game of the week in professional baseball. Jupiter beat Clearwater, 2-1, in a 23-inning Florida State League game. The next night’s game had the same score but was played in 2:11; 4. Industry sources indicate that TBS is making a strong run at tying up NESN’s Don Orsillo to a long-term deal; 5. The White Sox are 6-4 with a 3.29 ERA with the six-man rotation they put into effect May 11 when Jake Peavy came off the DL.

Updates on nine 1. Mark Shapiro, president, Indians — Shapiro said the current 20-game stretch will tell a lot about his team. Asked whether he would be able to make a deal at the deadline if the Indians are still contenders, he said, “It’s not a matter of money. It’s a matter of not giving away any of our prospects. We’re not going to do that.’’ That is quite a dilemma; when you have a chance to win, you’re almost compelled to go for it. We’ll see how far the restraint goes.

2. Josh Reddick, OF, Red Sox — Two scouts representing National League teams were thrilled to see the Sox bring him up so they could evaluate him in the majors. Reddick’s first game (3 for 5) was pretty good. He is on a few teams’ wish lists, and the feeling is the Sox may have seized an opportunity to get him up and showcase him. Darnell McDonald doesn’t appear to be a happy camper at being placed on the disabled list with a quad injury.

3. Erik Bedard, LHP, Mariners — He has had three shoulder operations in three years, and was the centerpiece of a terrible trade in which the Mariners sent Adam Jones and Chris Tillman to Baltimore. Well, Bedard, who signed an incentive-laden contract to return to Seattle as a free agent, is finally starting to pay dividends for the surging Mariners. In his last start Wednesday, he worked six scoreless innings in a 3-0 win over the Twins, and has now gone 15 innings without allowing a run. Bedard, one of the surliest players in the majors, could become trade bait for GM Jack Zduriencik. It will depend on where the Mariners are by then.

4. Dan Uggla, 2B, Braves — He has suffered from the same malady as Carl Crawford: Big Contract Pressure Syndrome. Wonder if the experiences of these two will deter players from signing big deals. LOL. Uggla, who got a five-year, $62 million deal, went 2 for 26 on a recent trip. “It kind of comes with the territory,’’ said Uggla, who played in the obscurity of Florida before the Braves acquired him last winter. “You’re paid a lot of money to do a job and you want to do it. You want to fulfill it.’’

5. Delmon Young, OF, Twins — The Twins would never say it, but if sometime before the trade deadline an offer is made on him, a deal might get done. Young, 25, isn’t as bad as his .216 average, but he has become a frustrating player because of his potential. Young is arbitration-eligible one more time, and the Twins may want to deal him before the money gets prohibitive.

6. Jeremy Guthrie, RHP, Orioles — The Baltimore people insist Guthrie is going nowhere, that he’s very much a part of the team’s plans. But not many are buying it. As one NL scout put it, “If you put together a package they can’t say no to, will they still say no?’’

7. Chris Carpenter, RHP, Cardinals — From the Go Figure Dept., we have the Cardinals with a 28-12 record when Carpenter does not start. When he starts, they’re 2-9. “I’ve been on the other side of this, now I guess it’s my turn,’’ he said.

8. Jae Seo, former Rays RHP — It has been more than four years since a Rays pitcher took the mound at age 30. That was Seo, who pitched on his 30th birthday on May 24, 2007, vs. Seattle. By today, it should be 654 games for Tampa Bay without using a starter over the age of 30. The only team to go longer was the 1913-17 Washington Senators, who went 704 games.

9. Akinori Iwamura, former Rays 2B — He was recently released by the Rakuten Eagles in Japan after hitting .169 in 24 games. He was also asked to lose weight and did not do so.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “CC Sabathia must be wondering what the big fuss is about Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays slugger is 0 for 15 against the Bronx big guy.’’ Also, “Big Papi hitting over .300 makes us remember that the last DH who hit over .300 for a full season was David Ortiz, who hit .332 in 2007.’’ And, “Nobody would have expected Adam Dunn starting his White Sox career 0 for 32 (14 strikeouts) against lefties.’’ . . . You can have dinner with Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy and ESPNBoston.com columnist Gordon Edes at the Gibbet Hill Grill in Groton if you win an auction to raise funds to fix up Marshall Park in honor of Lunenburg High graduate Jason Montgomery Rodgers, who died after a head injury sustained while playing football for the varsity. To bid, go to www.charityauctionstoday.com and type in “JMR Fund’’ . . . Happy birthday to Mike Stenhouse (53) and the original “Supersub,’’ John Kennedy (70).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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