Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg prepares to field a comebacker during today's workout.
Nationals catchers threw out only 16.5 percent of basestealers last year, the second-worst rate in the majors ahead of only the Pirates (11 percent) and well below the MLB average (26 percent).
Too often, though, those catchers took the blame for something that wasn't really their fault.
"The catching corps has never been the problem," manager Davey Johnson said. "I mean, we've got six guys here who can catch and throw. That's never been a problem. You always steal on the pitcher. But there were too many loopholes there where guys could steal."
Indeed, the biggest contributing factor to those terrible basestealing numbers was the Nationals pitching staff's inability to hold runners close to first base. The problem wasn't so much being slow to the plate; it was becoming so predictable that runners were able to time their moves to a T.
"Everybody on the ball field has got to know the speed of the runner. And so should the pitcher," Johnson said. "He should know: Don't be so regular that they can read you and start before you even think about throwing home and have no chance."
So guess what Johnson has decided to make a point of emphasis this spring? Yep, early this morning after the pitching staff completed pre-workout stretches, Johnson gathered everyone up and told them they would be spend considerable time working on their pickoff moves and timing to the plate.
"If I remember right, that was one of the meetings I had with [GM Mike] Rizzo after they stole 26 in a row bases," the manager said. "So I'm kind of nipping it in the bud. I look at the things as a group we can improve on, and one of them is not being so easy to steal on.
Johnson wants his pitchers to rely less on the dugout to signal for step-offs and throw-overs, as they did last season under the direction of bench coach Randy Knorr (a former catcher).
"The bench controls all their movements, and they learn that all the way up through the minor-league system," Johnson said. "And once they get to the major-league system, they're almost like a machine out there. So they don't even think about that. They let the bench decide what they're going to do.
"Then you sometimes get into such a routine that you can be read. I've always hated that. I've always put a quietus to calling the step-offs and throw-overs. I always want my pitching staff to read and pay attention and to vary their delivery."
They took their first step toward that new directive this morning, the first of several sessions Johnson has planned on the subject during camp.
"We have some things to do this spring to clean up," he said.