Be Careful For What You Wish For
Last night's All-Star Game was definitely a special one, but we can never stop learning from the game we all love. During the ninth inning of the game, Royals' All-Star catcher Salvador Perez called for Texas Rangers' All-Star Closer Joe Nathan to throw an 0-2 breaking pitch in the dirt in an attempt to get Cardinals' All-Star 2B Matt Carpenter to fish at it.
Perez placed the back of his glove on the ground, signaling to Nathan that he wanted to ball in the dirt, out of reach from Carpenter's bat.
Nathan did exactly what Perez asked him to do and threw a great pitch breaking down and out of the strikezone, directly at the spot on the ground that Perez had placed his glove prior to the delivery. Perez got his glove to the ground, but never came close to firing the block at all, let alone on time. Now, can some of this be chalked up to a catcher not being familiar with the movement of an opposing pitcher's breaking stuff? A little I suppose. But it doesn't take away from the fact that he asked for a pitch in the dirt and that is what he got. A very blockable pitch in the dirt I might add.
Catchers, nobody is saying that you are catching a pitcher with the arsenal of Joe Nathan every game (though, some of you might be), but it is important to remember that how you handle the pitches in the dirt that you ask for is going to significantly affect how that pitcher locates throughout the game. If you can't sell out on a pitch in the dirt when you told your pitcher to throw it there, then how on earth can we expect them to be comfortable throwing it there again or throwing a pitch even remotely close to that height during the game.
If your pitcher is afraid to throw the ball low in the dirt, they're going to pitch to the middle of the zone more often. That will lead to hitters making better contact, and better contact very often results in less outs.
We need to give our pitcher the confidence to throw the ball in the dirt, especially when we ask for it. If you ask your pitcher to throw the ball there, don't be surprised when they actually do.