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April 9, 2014

What You Need to Know

You Must Learn Control

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
A second baseman or shortstop fields a ground ball and throws it to his double-play partner at the keystone. The other middle infielder catches it with his foot on the bag. As he begins to remove the ball from his glove with his bare hand, the ball squirts away. The runner going to second is out. The batter is safe at first. And life goes on.

Well, that was the case last year. But as we’ve learned over the past two days, it’s not the case anymore.

Confusion first arose during the Rangers-Red Sox game on Monday, when a 4-6 force play at second base turned into an error on shortstop Elvis Andrus. As Rangers manager Ron Washington told reporters, the league informed clubs during spring training that runners would be called safe on any failed transfer, after which replay would be initiated to determine whether the fielder controlled the ball while in contact with the base.

That seems fair enough. However, the basis on which the umpires in the league’s control center rule on the replay is murkier. Here is the play from Monday’s game:

On review, the call initially made by second-base umpire Jordan Baker stood. Washington begged to differ, and he voiced his opinion after the game. The skipper’s position—“Elvis caught the ball. He went out and caught the ball”—was understandable: After all, when a fielder catches a ball with his foot on a base before the runner going to that base arrives, that runner is generally ruled out.

But the league noted in a statement (quoted in the last paragraph of the afore-linked Dallas Morning News blog post) on Tuesday that in order for an out to be recorded during a play on which the receiver intends to throw the ball to another base, he must secure possession with his throwing hand.

If that seems odd to you, well, you’re not alone. Rays manager Joe Maddon and shortstop Yunel Escobar felt that way, too, when Ben Zobrist dropped the ball on a transfer after catching a throw from Escober in yesterday’s game against the Royals. Here’s that play:

In this case, a clearer camera angle of the transfer was available, and the call by Phil Cuzzi was confirmed (as opposed to standing because of inconclusive evidence). For all practical purposes, the result was the same.

Rays pitcher Chris Archer ultimately induced another double-play ball, which his defense converted to help him escape the jam. Archer went on to duel Yordano Ventura and reliever Aaron Crow for seven captivating frames in a contest that the Rays won with a ninth-inning run off of Greg Holland.

But had Hosmer not bounced into the 6-4-3 twin killing after a bunt single by Norichika Aoki loaded the bases for the Royals with one out in the bottom of the third, the buzz on Twitter might have been decidedly different. The Royals might have pulled ahead and held on for the victory. Ventura might have been granted a restraining order against Jason Parks. We’ll never know.

What we do know is that fielders need to be a touch more careful when they remove caught balls from their gloves, lest they find themselves slapped with an error and cost their teams an out.

And as we discovered during the late game between the Angels and Mariners, that goes for outfielders, too. Take it away, Josh Hamilton:

This play, unlike the others, was ruled an out on the field by third-base umpire Seth Buckminster and then overturned after Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon challenged it. That led to an additional layer of confusion, as McClendon argued, unsuccessfully, that Justin Smoak—the runner on second—should have been awarded third base.

In the end, neither manager was pleased with the outcome. But by the official definition of a catch, the attention to detail—as required by the expansion of replay—appears to be justified.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
Ryan Braun says his thumb hurts. He’s struggling to take his normal swing. He can’t feel the bat properly and isn’t sure what sort of treatment might fix the nerve issue at the heart of the problem. All of that sounds serious, but after Tuesday’s drubbing, you’ll have to forgive Kyle Kendrick if he doesn’t buy it.

Braun continued his career-long assault on Phillies pitching in the Brewers’ 10-4 romp at Citizens Bank Park with the first three-home-run performance of the 2014 season. The University of Miami product smacked his first two long balls against Kendrick in the third and fourth innings and authored his third off of Brad Lincoln in the eighth. Each of the bookend blasts brought home three runs, as Braun also set a league high for the young season and tied a franchise record by driving in seven.

With the power display, the 30-year-old outfielder became the first Brewers batter to go yard thrice in one day since Braun himself did it on April 30, 2012. He also became the first player to accomplish the feat against the Phillies since Jason Giambi turned in three homers on May 19, 2011. Philadelphia’s starting pitcher that day was none other than Kyle Kendrick, who served up two of Giambi’s gopher balls as well.

But Braun’s success versus the Phillies dates back nearly seven years, to the first time he faced Charlie Manuel’s club in August of 2007. Braun collected two hits in each of the three games of that series and twice found the bleachers. Since then, he’s notched a 5-for-5 performance and delivered a walk-off. And that’s without counting the damage he did yesterday.

Add it all up and in 44 career games against the Phillies, Braun’s triple-slash line stands at .392/.435/.739. That includes 69 hits, 26 of them for extra-bases, 17 of them over a fence. And you can toss in this Web Gem from yesterday’s win for good measure, too.

Corey Seidman of CSN Philly wrote on Sunday that Braun’s injury “could impact [the] series.” No such luck for the Phillies. You might say his performance against them sticks out like a sore thumb.

***

It’s an all-Biogenesis edition of Quick Hits, as Melky Cabrera earns some recognition too.

The second-year Blue Jay has crushed four long balls in as many days. That’s a feat we might expect from, say, Mark Trumbo, who did it over the weekend. But Cabrera, who hit three home runs in 372 plate appearances spread across all of last season? Not so much.

The 29-year-old turned in a two-run shot off of Kevin Chapman in the seventh inning of the Jays’ 5-2 victory over the Astros, providing Brett Cecil and Sergio Santos with a bit of insurance in the last two frames. Eight games into the season, Cabrera—who bats leadoff—still hasn’t drawn a walk. But as long as he keeps slugging .657, manager John Gibbons won’t mind.

Trumbo came up short in his bid for a fifth straight game with a homer, as he went 0-for-4 in Tuesday’s date with Tim Hudson and the Giants. Cabrera gets his chance in tonight’s matchup with Lucas Harrell, who coughed up 20 big flies in 153 2/3 innings last year.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Alex Gordon endured serious punishment from the wall to make this catch to retire Matt Joyce, so it’s only fair that he gets rewarded for it:

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Rain in Cleveland washed away the opener between the Padres and Indians, so they’ll play two today, with the forecast calling for partly cloudy skies but a chilly 48 degrees. It’s Eric Stults versus Zach McAllister in game one, the earliest first pitch on the docket. Not long after the conclusion of the matinee, Robbie Erlin will square off with Trevor Bauer, who shined in his 2014 Triple-A debut, fanning nine and allowing only one run on two hits in six innings (12:05 p.m. ET, TBD).

  • After one minor-league tuneup to make up for the time that he missed during spring training, Ervin Santana has been deemed ready for his Braves debut. The right-hander allowed six runs (five earned) in 5 1/3 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett on April 4, but his stuff was crisp enough to persuade the club that he’s ready to help its beleaguered rotation. Santana’s first outing comes at Turner Field, where the Mets will counter with Zack Wheeler, whom Santana outdueled while with the Royals on August 4 of last year (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • If any player is cursing the schedule-makers 10 days into the regular season, it might be Tim Lincecum, who has to deal with Paul Goldschmidt for the second start in a row. The first baseman’s ownage of the right-hander is well documented, and 26 plate appearances into their head-to-head history, it includes a 12-for-23 line with six home runs, one of which came at Chase Field last week. Lincecum told reporters after the game that he’s back to square one when it comes to retiring Goldschmidt and might resort to “throwing underhand.” Whatever he does, the 29-year-old will try to go consecutive starts without walking a batter for the first time since May 27-June 1, 2011 (10:15 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Ryan Braun,  Melky Cabrera,  Instant Replay,  Transfer

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