Rule change means extra work for Nats catchers

VIERA, Fla. - About 20 minutes before the Nationals’ workout got under way this morning - a workout that was brief and laid-back the day before Matt Williams’ squad will get its spring schedule underway - a group of catchers stood out at home plate at Space Coast Stadium putting in some extra defensive work.

Bench coach Randy Knorr and third base coach Bobby Henley, two former big league catchers, both spent time showing Wilson Ramos, Jose Lobaton, Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon proper form when it comes to blocking the plate while still complying with the new rule banning “egregious” home plate collisions this season.

The rule passed on Monday states that a runner may no longer deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, and that a catcher cannot block the path of the runner as he is attempting to score unless the catcher is in possession of the ball.

Ramos has said that he’s in favor of the new rule because it should, in theory, help prevent major injuries, but he now needs to go through the learning process when it comes to what’s allowed and what isn’t.

“We are a little bit (confused) because that new rule, for a catcher, we have to block the plate,” Ramos said. “We don’t want that guy to score easy. But right now, the new rule help the catcher a lot. We need to be out of the runner’s line. That’s the new rule and we will have to do that.

“I need to see the videos and what the other guys say about the rule. We need to learn more about that. Right now, I know we can’t stand in the runner’s line. We have to stay out of the runner’s line. I know we can’t block the plate if we don’t have the ball. If we’ve got the ball, we can block the plate a little bit. That’s what I know right now.”

As Ramos mentioned, Major League Baseball has given teams video clips showing what type of defensive plays will be allowed by catchers and what type will now be illegal. The Nationals catchers will be shown those videos, and Knorr will continue to try and educate the guys as spring training goes on.

Knorr and Henley looked like they were specifically working with the catchers on setting up in front of the plate while waiting for a throw (positioning their left foot in front of the dish instead of on or around the third base line, as they might have in the past) and then sliding their body into the baseline and swiping their glove toward the baserunner once in possession of the ball.

“In my career, I concentrate on doing something,” Ramos said. “Right now, we have to change a little bit that part of the game, but we have to learn. We have to learn and try to practice that.”

As far as the Nats are concerned, the new rule is not exactly concrete. Some parts of it, Williams says, are somewhat open to interpretation.

“Some of it is a judgment call by the umpire, whether you have blocked the plate without the ball, the question of the ball coming in at the same time as the runner and what would that rule be,” Williams said. “So they’re working on the standard, ‘OK, the ball’s coming in. Here’s where you can be and here’s where you can’t be, according to rule.’ So they’ll try to do that in games. It moves a little fast at that point.

“But understanding the rule and applying it in a walk-through practice is the first step. And then certainly in their fielding practice and their drills and then in the games. It’s a new rule for everybody, so everybody has to adhere to it and practice it as well.”

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