CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The new rules on home-plate collisions were barely 24 hours old Tuesday. But already, there were signs they were beginning to alter the old, familiar rhythms and drills of spring training.
In the Phillies’ camp Tuesday, catchers were given a quick course on how the rules will affect them. And starting Wednesday, manager Ryne Sandberg told ESPN.com, the Phillies will begin “multiple” drills for both catchers and baserunners to cover how plays at the plate will no longer be the same.
Asked how soon his team would begin working with players to help them understand how to react to situations that arise on plays at the plate, Sandberg replied: "Immediately. We've got games taking place Wednesday.”
So Sandberg had his coaching staff explain the rule to his catchers on Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, they’ll launch right into their first situational drill. And it won’t be the last.
“That’ll have to be [taught] multiple times,” Sandberg said Tuesday morning, on the eve of his team’s first spring training game of the year. “It’s something new. This will be a drill, with catchers, with baserunners. And we’ll have a [coach hit fungos], with varied throws going to different spots.”
Sandberg said he envisioned this session as a variation on a drill teams do every spring, in which catchers take assorted throws at the plate -- but with a whole new twist.
“Only now,” he said, “we’ll be stopping it and saying, 'Hey, on this throw right here, if the catcher is in this position and he’s just received it, here’s his responsibility, and here’s what the runners can do, and here’s what you can do as a catcher.’ And that creates multiple options around home plate. That starts tomorrow. And that’s huge.”
One of the first situations Sandberg wants his catchers to understand is that, even if they’re set up correctly to allow the runner a lane to the plate, if the throw from the outfield brings them up the line, into the path of the runner, the baserunner is still allowed to hit them.
“In that situation, it’s not a violation by the runner if he bowls him over,” the manager said. “So it goes back to the old idea that it’s free game right there. So you know what? I think that’s going to stress outfielders making good throws to home plate, and for the catchers to position themselves to allow the runner to have a lane to home plate.
“That right there is cut and dried,” he said. “But with different throws coming in, if the catcher shows the lane and then he [catches the ball and] takes the lane away and blocks the plate, now, for me, they need to be ready to take a hit there. And once again, that’s subjective, in the judgment of the home-plate umpire.”
But for all the complications and gray areas Sandberg is concerned about, he’s still a big fan of the rule itself, and what it aspires to address.
“I've seen those plays where it's a good throw, the catcher gives the runner a chance to slide, and all of a sudden the runner goes out of his way to hit the guy high,” he said. “That’s the flagrant play at the plate that I totally agree with. That’s intentional injury, 100 percent. And the last thing anybody wants to do is lose their catcher for the year in April on a play like that.”