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Sunday, Apr 20, 2014
Rays

Rays forced to adjust under new home-plate collision rule

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PORT CHARLOTTE -- The Tampa Bay Rays are going to re-learn how to approach home plate during the next few days after Major League Baseball on Monday announced the new rule concerning collisions.

Runners cannot initiate contact with the catcher, and catchers cannot block the plate unless they have the ball.

“We have five weeks to learn something we’ve never done,” catcher Jose Molina said.

The position players will work with bench coach Dave Martinez on the running aspect to the rule.

Coach Jamie Nelson, who works with the catchers, wil show them how to block the plate under the new rules.

“It’s surprising. I expected it to be a little different, but I think some guys are happy with it and some aren’t. I think we’re split,” catcher Ryan Hanigan said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to protect guys, which I can understand.”

Runners have to slide into home plate, which can be tricky since catchers are wearing shin guards.

“You’re sliding into the plate, obviously going feet first, from what I understand and what they said already, we’re going to try to really slide with our cleat going into their shine guard,” outfielder Matt Joyce said. “That’s the way to protect yourself while sliding into home hard. For me I’ve slid into home where it’s shin-to-shin. That’s just not a safe play. We’ll see how it goes.”

Hanigan said it is his nature to stick his leg in front of the plate while waiting for the ball to arrive when he senses the player is going to slide.

“He’ll slide in, I’ll get the ball and go. I’ve done that. It’s not necessarily the safest thing to do because your leg’s exposed,” Hanigan said. “I only do that if I’m really pretty sure the guy’s going to slide. But I mean, that’s not going to be allowed. I do give the plate to guys I feel like have a chance to knock me down or are going to come at me. I try to give a little plate then time it and go down. There are a lot of guys who have been taught that you stand there and you get in front of the plate and you wait for the ball. Those guys, they can’t do that, and obviously it’s a little bit more dangerous to be there and exposed. I think that’s going to have to change, those guys are going to have to do it a little bit differently and practice it to the rule.

“But for me, like I said, I don’t think I’m going to change a whole lot because I do give a little plate, except on some plays where I know the guy’s going to slide and I might be able to stuff him and get the ball. I don’t know. I’ve been doing it one way for so long, it’s going to be tough to try to do anything different.”

Players often slide into home plate when the catcher gives up a piece of the plate. It’s when the catcher has the plate blocked with his shin or body when the collisions occur. Now, catchers will be required to give up a piece of the plate until they have the ball.

“I’m probably not going to do anything much different,” Hanigan said. “I always give a little plate if I don’t have the ball, so I don’t think I’ll change my mechanics too much, so I don’t think it’ll be too big a deal. We’ll see how it goes when we get those calls that are, ‘Oh, was he blocking the plate too early?’ or that whole deal. There’s going to be some of that. But I don’t know, man. I’m surprised, to tell you the truth.”

Umpires will be able to use replay to determine when the catcher had the ball and if the runners lowered his shoulder or extended his arms before the contact.

Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, said some collisions are unavoidable, such as when the throw takes the catcher into the runner. The rule is aimed at removing the vicious hits that can leave the catcher or the runner or both injured.

“You should take away the guys who are trying to hurt you,” Molina said. “That should be the rule.”

rmooney@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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