Tony Sanchez calls Russell Martin one of the league’s best catchers, and he is right to boast.
Martin leads all MLB catchers in assists (73), runners caught stealing (23) and is fourth in caught stealing percentage (43 percent), plus he has started 87 of 120 games at catcher for the Pirates’ pitching staff that has baseball’s best ERA.
Sanchez arrived in Pittsburgh on July 29 carrying his own pedigree as a former No. 4 overall pick who was known as an already-strong defensive catcher when he was drafted out of Boston College.
“Tony showed up here a good defensive catcher with the skill set,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “You’ve been able to see that play out in a short period of time as far as blocking, receiving and game-calling.”
Sanchez now has completed six starts behind the plate in his Major League career and almost three weeks as Martin’s teammate. The 25-year-old watches the veteran catcher closely on the field, though he said he needs to only observe one game of Martin catching each pitcher to figure out how to call those starts.
“That’s all you need, really, to know what he likes to throw in certain situations. One start,” Sanchez said. “I knew what they were calling, when they wanted to call it, what pitches they wanted to call… Keep your mouth shut, watch the game, be a student.”
When he is in the dugout watching Martin, Sanchez says he looks for certain elements:
- How he sets up his body pre-pitch
- His pitch calls based on pitcher and count
- How he transfers from glove to hand to throw out baserunners
Sanchez recalls a transfer Martin made on a curveball in the dirt to throw out the Rockies’ Corey Dickerson at second base.
“Those are the toughest ones to transfer. You’re down, you gotta transfer down there, your arm has to come all the way up, you have to find your grip and you have to make a strong throw. He throws it on the money.
“I look at [bench coach Jeff] Banister and I go, ‘That is amazing.’ And Banny’s like, ‘Is that the first time you’ve seen him throw somebody out?’ In person, yes, first time… Everyone just sees the throw that he makes. No one sees the way he is positioned pre-pitch to put himself to throw a strike down there.”
Hurdle says there are many elements to Martin’s game that Sanchez can gleam from even a couple weeks of in-person observation, specifically when the catcher times his visits the mound to talk with a pitcher.
“The time spent there, the calming presence he can provide,” Hurdle said. “Watching a guy begin as aggressive as he is behind the plate, selling out. Watching the receiving ability to frame pitches, to work pitches back to the strike zone. All that helps his eyes.”
Sanchez is now four years out of college, but he is learning plenty from his course at the Russell Martin Catching Academy.
- The Pirates open a three-game home series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night, the team that is closest to grabbing a playoff spot from one of the five National League teams currently in the postseason picture. If Pittsburgh sweeps the series, they will be 11.5 games ahead of Arizona for a playoff spot. If Arizona sweeps, the Pirates will only be 5.5 games ahead.
- LHP Wandy Rodriguez (left forearm tightness) threw 35 pitches in a batting practice session today, all four-seam or two-seam fastballs and changeups. He has not yet thrown breaking pitches yet. “If he feels good” Rodriguez will pitch a bullpen session Monday and a simulated game Friday.
- RHP Gerrit Cole starts Friday night on seven days rest. Hurdle said the team is looking for ways “to be smart with how many available innings he can pitch this year” to keep him in play into October. The rookie has already pitched 134 innings between the minors and Major Leagues compared to 132 minor-league innings last year.
- Hurdle said he wants “to get the entirety” of Major League Baseball’s proposal to expand instant replay before he comments about its viability. The plan would give managers three challenges per game for umpires to review close calls. The skipper says MLB is “trying to make sure that right calls are made as often as possible” and that league executives have “put more thought into this than you can even imagine.”