Few relationships in the game of baseball are more important than that which exists between a catcher and a pitcher, and for the Indians‘ Lou Marson and David Huff, theirs began in September when they became teammates for the first time. Huff, a 25-year-old left-hander who was the Tribe’s first-round pick in the 2006 draft, was already in Cleveland, having made his big-league debut in May. Marson, a highly regarded 23-year-old catcher, joined the team from Triple-A Columbus just over a month after being acquired in the six-player deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Phillies in late July. Huff and Marson sat down with BP on the final weekend of the season to discuss not only their respective games, but also to learn more about each other.
David Laurila: Let’s start with the two of you describing each other. Who wants to go first?
David Huff: Go for it, man.
Lou Marson: Wow. David Huff. Well, it’s our first year together. How many times have I caught you? Three times? Twice?
Huff: Just once, but I faced you in Lehigh Valley.
Marson: Yeah, you threw me a 2-0 changeup and I hit it off the wall for a double; I remember that. It was the first time I faced you, because you were probably always ahead of me. What year were you drafted in?
Huff: I was drafted in ’06.
Marson: I was ’04, out of high school. Where did you go to school?
DL: Lou, what type of pitcher is David?
Marson: Good sinker, occasional four-seamer, and he definitely gets a lot of ground balls. So he’s a ground-ball pitcher, you know. He throws a lot of strikes and knows what he wants to do. Good changeup. He also doesn’t over-think, he just goes out and throws strikes and keeps it simple. I feel that’s what makes him successful. He doesn’t try to trick anybody, and you don’t really need to as a pitcher. You just need to go out, locate your fastball, and go from there.
DL: Is that an accurate assessment of you, David?
Huff: That’s a very good assessment. I’m not really trying to do too much, like he said. I’m just trying to throw strikes and keep it around the zone, make guys put it in play, and let our defense work. It’s one of those things, for me, where I feel that strikeouts are overrated, boring, and they make the game even longer, because you have to use three pitches to get a guy out. You can use two pitches, or even one pitch, to get them to ground out, or something like that. It makes the game move along a lot faster and the guys are more interested, and paying more attention, rather than falling back on their heels. The games, instead of being four hours, are going to be like two-and-half, which definitely helps everybody out.
Marson: Yeah, that’s a good thing. He definitely works quickly and keeps everybody on their toes, and keeps the game fun. That’s what you want. You don’t want to be out here all night and have a slow-paced game.
DL: David, it sounds like Lou accurately described you as a pitcher. Given the short time you’ve been teammates, would you have been at all surprised if he hadn’t?
Huff: You know, it’s one of those things where, when he first came to us he was learning on the go, and the hardest thing to do is learn pitchers real quick. You kind of just get a feel for guys after a couple times catching them, but he had a good feel when he came in. The night that I was throwing to him, he knew exactly what was going on. I shook [a sign off] a couple of times, a few times, but no, the more he catches us, the more comfortable we are and the better it is. That makes the game that much better.
DL: When you’re first throwing to a new catcher, is there a level of apprehension, wondering if you’ll work well together?
Huff: Well, the thing is, when the catcher puts down signs, he has a feeling for how he wants to attack the guy, or he thinks we can get the guy out this way. And to be honest, talking to Kelly Shoppach, or talking to Lou, or talking to all of the catchers, they basically say, “Hey, these are just suggestions; you do what you’ve got to do.” Most of the time I agree with them, and we just go. Every once in awhile, maybe I get a little too picky, and want to throw something else, so I’ll shake them off. But Lou calls a great game, and gets after it, and works hard.
DL: Lou, refresh my memory. Did you get traded here before or after Victor Martinez was dealt to Boston?
Marson: Right before, but I went to Columbus first, so I was never on the team with him. He got traded a couple of days later, and [Wyatt] Toregas came up from Columbus, and I stayed there for the rest of the [minor league] season to get comfortable with the organization.
DL: Once you did get called up, did you go to Kelly Shoppach to learn what you could from him about the pitching staff?
Marson: I actually got to look at them on a DVD with Scott Radinsky, our pitching coach in Columbus. He had it sent to Columbus, and we watched all of the pitchers so that I wouldn’t have to go out there blind; I wouldn’t be getting thrown out there blind, without having seen them. So, we went over those, and that was the first time I got to see everybody, and talk about them, and go over them. A lot of the guys had been in Columbus, with Scott, earlier in the year. I didn’t really talk to Shoppie a lot. I talked Wyatt and [Chris] Gimenez more, but Shoppach did help me out a little bit with the pitchers.
DL: Seeing someone on video and catching them are two different things. Did anyone surprise you once you did start catching them?
Marson: No, not really. [Justin] Masterson, I had never caught him before, and he definitely has a… he and [Fausto] Carmona are the guys where it’s not really comfortable back there, catching them. You always have to be on your toes and ready, because sometimes they cut it and sometimes they sink it. You never know what the ball’s going to do.
DL: That’s on the same pitch? You put down fingers for a specific pitch, not knowing if it will cut or sink?
Marson: Yeah, sometimes. Most of the time it’s pretty consistent with their sinkers, but sometimes Masterson has a tendency to cut it, like when he flies open or something. So you always have to be ready, especially with runners on base.
DL: David, you said earlier that strikeouts are overrated. A lot of people feel that it’s hard for pitchers to maintain a high level of success with consistently low strikeout rates. Do you buy that?
Huff: Not really. Strikeouts are what they are. It’s a good thing, it’s awesome, they feel good, but personally, to be honest, it’s all about being efficient. If you’re out there, and you’re nibbling, the next thing you know your pitch count is up around 90 pitches and you’re only in the fifth inning. That’s not a very efficient night. If you’re going into the eighth inning with two strikeouts, and you have 85 pitches on your arm, that’s an efficient night right there. For me, that’s what I try to do. Strikeouts are good, but I like to consider them as a bonus, because I’m trying to make guys put the ball into play.
Marson: As a hitter, that’s the most frustrating thing, when you have what is called a comfortable 0-for-4. You just hit three ground balls, and flew out once, and you’re extremely frustrated because you’re wondering, ‘How is this guy getting me out?’ When a guy is out there dealing, and striking everybody out, you kind of don’t feel as bad.
DL: Lou, what do you do if a pitcher is getting hit hard because he’s getting too much of the plate? Do you tell him that he has to be a little less aggressive and work more corners?
Marson: You just try to go to a different pitch, I guess. If his fastball is staying out over the middle of the plate, you try to go to a different pitch that gets him back to the corners, or back to hitting his spots with the fastball. What is yours, David, a changeup, probably?
Huff: A changeup, yes.
Marson: With a lot of guys it’s the changeup that gets them back out there. But, you know, you don’t want to go out and crush his confidence during the middle of the game. But it also depends on the guy’s personality, and what kind of relationship you have with him. Sometimes you can do that. I don’t know if we’ve been together long enough for me to go out… I don’t know, I guess I probably could, and you’d be fine. But with certain guys you can, and with certain guys you can’t.
Huff: When you first start the game, you’re obviously trying to establish yourself, and trying to establish the strike zone, and you start over the plate. Then, as the game goes on, not only the catcher gets comfortable, but the umpire gets comfortable because he knows you’re hitting your spots, so you can start expanding a little bit. Maybe the umpire will start giving you corners, or more of the black a little bit, but if you’re over the middle, you’re definitely going to get rocked around a little bit. You just have to figure out a way, and battle, and hopefully keep the pitch down, even if it’s down the middle. You also have to mix speeds. If you can throw off-speed in fastball-hitting counts, you can get the guys off balance a little bit and taking some defensive swings.
DL: Lou, since coming over, have you found many differences in how the Phillies and Indians do things in regard to pitching?
Marson: One big thing I noticed when I got here is the pitchers weren’t long tossing. They only go out to 120 feet. That was something I noticed right away, because in Philadelphia, they have all the pitchers long toss from, what, 190 feet? They go pretty far, and try to maintain that throughout the season. You know, it’s just different opinions on everything, and that’s one thing I noticed, that we weren’t long tossing as much. We were just kind of playing catch, and getting loose, and going from there.
DL: How about pitch usage, especially coming up through the system? Some teams emphasize the importance of the changeup more than others.
Marson: The Phillies were definitely like that. [Pitchers] had to throw a certain percentage of changeups a game. Philly definitely did that. Going to [Carlos] Carrasco, I think that’s why his changeup is one of his best pitches, because of how much they made him throw it coming up through the system.
Huff: For me, personally, my changeup is my best pitch, so coming up, [the Indians] didn’t really say anything about certain percentages, or “It has to be this pitch.” It was more of just getting a feel for everything. There were some games where I was 60 percent fastballs, 39 percent changeups, and I’d mix in a couple of breaking balls. I mean, for certain guys, there are certain things. Some guys don’t have changeups, so they have to use a certain percentage of one of their other pitches. It’s definitely a good thing, as far as the other ball clubs, but for us, they just haven’t really emphasized anything on that.
DL: Lou: A criticism of the Indians staff is that it has included too many starters with a similar profile, such as David, Aaron Laffey, and Jeremy Sowers. Are those three guys pretty much the same, or are they less alike than many people think they are?
Marson: Yeah, I think they are similar, but they’re different in their own ways, like how they go after guys, and the pace of the game. Everybody is different in their own little way, but what it obviously comes down to is getting guys out. You have to go out there, throw strikes, and get guys out.
DL: David, you’re spending your rookie season on a team that fell out of contention relatively early. Has that made pitching any easier?
Huff: You know what, that doesn’t really make a difference. As a competitor, you go out every day and try to win a ballgame. Even if there is something on the line, that shouldn’t change the way that you play. Like, you shouldn’t be more intense; you should be playing at that even keel where you’ve been playing all year. That’s one thing that the coaches definitely emphasize. You don’t want to have those up-and-down, roller-coaster emotions where you’re good one day and are like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve got to stay right here,’ and then all of a sudden you have a bad day and you can’t dig yourself out of it. If something’s on the line, or if something’s not on the line, you should be the same player every day. You should be the same guy, which is definitely emphasized here.
DL: Lou, did you feel any extra pressure coming to a new team?
Marson: No, I just had to come and learn a whole new organization, and learn a bunch of new faces and new names. Just things like that. I really didn’t put any extra pressure on myself. I think that it was good that they sent me to Columbus, to Triple-A, for a couple of weeks to get comfortable there. So, no, there was no added pressure at all. I’ve just gone out and tried to run the staff, and have good at bats, and go from there.
DL: Open question, any subject. Who wants this one?
Marson: One thing I noticed last night is that if [Dustin] Pedroia doesn’t swing, it’s a ball. It has to be right down the middle for them to call a strike on him. Otherwise, if he doesn’t swing, it’s a ball.
Huff: That’s home-field advantage, man.
DL: Is that bias I’m hearing?
Huff: I kind of noticed that, too. When you’re playing here, at Fenway, the crowd gets into it, and when it starts getting to crunch time, a crucial point in the game, if you’re the pitcher out there, the strike zone definitely gets a little bit smaller.
DL: Is there maybe a veteran-versus-rookie aspect involved, also?
Huff: Yeah, that could play into it.
Marson: I think that’s what it is. I mean, look at their lineup compared to ours. Not taking anything away from us, but… or, not taking anything from Pedroia either, because he’s got a great approach, a great eye, obviously, and he’s won an MVP, but there were a couple of balls that were on the corner last night that got balled, and I thought that was pretty funny. You hear things like that, but it was funny to actually see it.
DL: Should veteran players get the benefit of the doubt more often?
Huff: If you watch the old video, on like Nolan Ryan, he’s getting pitches that are six inches out. Nowadays, honestly, it’s one of those things, like we said earlier, where when you first get out there, it doesn’t matter who’s up, you have to establish the strike zone and let the umpire know that you’re going to be attacking these guys over the plate and throwing a lot of strikes. Then, as the game goes on, maybe you can expand out a little more, and because he’s seen that you can hit a spot over and over and over, maybe he’ll give it to you later in the game. You never know, but you won’t know until you try. If he doesn’t give it to you, all right, you just have to bring it back in a little bit.
DL: Lou, as a catcher, does the umpire’s strike zone that you see behind the plate have any impact when you come up to hit?
Marson: Well, it obviously depends, but if he calls a certain pitch on you a strike, you might look back at him. I wouldn’t do that here yet, but it might be, “Come on dude, I’ve been back here catching that pitch, and you’ve been ball’ing it.” I feel like you can’t call certain pitches on the catcher, because I’m back there trying to keep the ball off of him. I always try to have a bet with him and say, you know, kind of joking, “If I keep the ball off of you, you can’t call those close pitches on me.”
Huff: You kind of see it with older guys. Obviously, Tom Glavine is done, but you’d see him get pitches on the black, then a couple of pitches off, and he’d earned it. He had so many great years in the bigs, and jeez, it’s kind of how it is. If you have a track record of throwing a lot of strikes, and are always around the plate… if a guy is calling a lot of strikes, maybe you fall into a little routine where you throw it just off the plate and he thinks, “That looked all right, I’m going to give it to him.” I mean, I don’t know what the umpire is thinking, but it’s nice when you throw something that is borderline and he calls it for you.
DL: Do either of you look at PITCHf/x data?
Huff: You mean like QuesTec? Only what we see on highlights, or during the game when they show instant replay and we see where it crosses.
DL: You don’t look at that type of data in the film room, or on the computer?
Marson: I haven’t, but I’m going to start looking at it.
Huff: I didn’t even know we had it, but I might want to check that out, too. Anything to help us get better.