A few pitches into Jesse Chavez’s first bullpen session of the spring, Russell Martin rises up from his crouch and pulls up his mask.
“Is that how you want me to set up?” the Toronto Blue Jays‘ all-star catcher asks, drawing a nod from the right-hander. “You like that target?” Another affirmative.
Martin has similar exchanges with every pitcher he catches for the first time, trying to figure out how to get the hurler’s best.
Here’s how he explains the process of building a rapport with pitchers.
“I typically like to get the word from the horse’s mouth, so I talk to the pitcher on the bus or on the field—the sooner the better. Worst case, right before a bullpen, we can talk about what they like to do with the fastball, if they like a low target, do they elevate their fastball—any information I can get is going to help. I ask them about their breaking ball and their secondary pitches, stuff like that. It can be a really short conversation, it’s not rocket science, and as I catch a guy, I can realize some things.”
Learning The Movement
“The guys who have really good command are easy. Guys like Marco Estrada, Chavez—you can just jump in and probably execute a game plan and have no worries. When guys don’t have that premium command and are more stuff-oriented, it can be a little bit tougher. Aaron Sanchez was tougher. He’s throwing 96 and it has late life. As the season progressed, you saw that he was more consistent and more under control and everything got better. From the first day of spring to in-season, he was a different guy.”
The Finer Points
“What are their go-tos? What are the key things they do when they’re going right? What do they want me to look for, whether it’s if they’re pulling off, or, if they’re directional guys, if they’re staying in line—little things like that. Some guys with their changeups want me to set up on the edges, and some guys like to start their changeup and just let the action do what it does and I set up down the middle. It’s the same questions with everybody.”