In his first regular-season game in more than eight months, A’s catcher John Jaso found himself in the middle of a convergence of two of Major League Baseball’s newest rules on one play in Monday night’s season opener.
In the sixth inning of the A’s 2-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians, with runners on first and third, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a line drive up the middle that caught the leg of Oakland pitcher Sonny Gray. Cleveland’s Michael Brantley broke for the plate from third as Gray picked up the ball and threw home to Jaso, who tagged Brantley out as Brantley slid into Jaso’s legs, leaving both on the ground.
After Indians manager Terry Francona came out to argue the play, home-plate umpire and crew chief Mike Winters initiated a replay review to determine whether Jaso had blocked the plate in violation of new rules governing home-plate collisions. Those rules and the use of replay went into effect this season.
While Tuesday night’s game between the A’s and Indians was rained out, the play at the plate remained a topic of discussion. Umpires upheld the “out” call Monday, but there remained some differing opinions in the two clubhouses over the interpretation of the home-plate rule.
Part of the rule is the catcher may not block a runner’s path to the plate unless he has possession of the ball. Winters told a pool reporter he reviewed the play because he “just wanted to confirm what I saw on the field that the catcher did not block the plate unnecessarily.
“(Jaso) was in fair territory, he gave the runner plenty of plate to go to, and so I just wanted to be sure,” Winters said.
Brantley was quoted by MLB.com as saying he felt he “did not have a lane” to the plate. Francona also disagreed when told Tuesday of Winters’ explanation.
“I don’t think that,” Francona said. “If you think about it, because their catcher moved up the line, that takes away any angle Brantley had. I don’t agree with that at all.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin said from his view of the play, “There was a lane on either side for (Brantley) to slide to, and I think the fact that he was more toward the inside than the outside made it look a little more like (Jaso) was potentially blocking the plate.”
In this instance, Melvin said, another likely factor in the collision was the throw came from the pitcher rather than an outfielder, which would give a catcher more time to assess where he’s standing relative to the plate.
Jaso agreed that “everything happened so fast … there wasn’t much time to process what the rules are during that time and where I’m positioned, where the runner’s coming from at what angle.”
Still, Jaso said after reviewing the play he felt he was in “all right position.”
“I just did it the way I was taught years ago and how I’ve always been doing it,” he said. “You kind of give them a sliding lane and then once you catch the ball you kind of take it away.”
Melvin also said the way the A’s have instructed their catchers under the new rules – “get the ball and then go ahead and take (the plate) away” – is “pretty similar to the way we’ve always taught it here.”
Francona, meanwhile, said he believes such plays remain a “real gray” area as teams and umpires alike get used to the new rules.
“They’re trying to institute a rule to protect the catchers. I think we all understand that,” he said. “Getting there is not always the easiest. Even when you look at it four, five, six times, you try to put yourself in the catcher’s shoes, the runner’s shoes. The game is going fast. I’m sure you’re going to see some squabbling or back-and-forth until it’s completely figured out.”
Tickets for Tuesday’s game will be valid for the 6 p.m. game. Fans with tickets to the 12:35 p.m. game will have to buy a second ticket to attend the nightcap.
Left-hander Scott Kazmir, who was to make his A’s debut Tuesday, will start the early game, Melvin said, and the A’s second starter had not yet been determined. Jesse Chavez, who was to start today, likely won’t start the second game and will be pushed back to Thursday.