9/28/2013 5:11 P.M. ET
Catching duo has stepped up for Angels this year
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Run through the issues that derailed the Angels in 2013, and you can compile a pretty exhaustive list.
Catching, however, may not be on there.
Together, Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger established themselves as a more-than-adequate pairing behind the plate, amid a season when the staff had a hard time holding runners and 26 different pitchers -- three shy of the club record -- were used. The two have been behind the plate for every inning except one, and the Angels rank 12th in the Majors in OPS at catcher (.731).
"In combination, they've had a very good season," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said.
"If you look at both guys combined on the offensive side, you see numbers that you go, 'Wow, that's pretty good,' if you're looking for some production from the catching position," manager Mike Scioscia said. "And I think that as the season has gone on, they definitely controlled the running game better -- both guys have -- I think our pitchers have helped them a little bit more. And those guys both play hard. I think those guys have done pretty much what we would've expected them to."
And to get there, both have had to persevere.
Conger has started 59 games behind the plate. Going into the season, though, the Angels weren't even sure if he'd make the team. Conger had the throwing yips in a Spring Training that saw him commit a team-high four errors in Cactus League play, while also making several other errant throws in practices and games that don't count towards those stats. It got so bad, that at one point the Angels signed Chris Snyder to a Minor League catcher as insurance just before the team broke camp.
Fast forward more than six months later, and Conger has thrown out 25 percent of would-be basestealers and is considered among the best in baseball at framing pitches, though he'll have to clean up those seven errors in 528 innings.
"Wow, Spring Training was not a pretty sight for me at all," said Conger, with a .252/.313/.409 slash line on the season. "Really a lot of the credit has to go to a lot of the coaching staff. I mean, you talk about [bullpen coach Steve] Soliz and Scioscia and all those guys, just really the positivity that they were bringing towards me, and the confidence they've shown, especially the way that I was throwing the ball in Spring Training, really showed a lot. And that actually helped me through the season knowing that they did have my back."
For a while, Iannetta -- with a .226/.359/.375 slash line heading into Saturday's start -- was having a woeful time throwing out attempted basestealers, going 6-for-62 to give him a Major League-worst 9.7 percent caught-stealing rate by July 30.
Through it all, Scioscia pinned those struggles on the pitching staff. And because Iannetta caught the vast majority of starts made by Tommy Hanson (slow to the plate) and Joe Blanton (lots of baserunners), his numbers suffered greatly.
Since being exposed while allowing 13 stolen bases to the Rangers on Aug. 6-7, the pitching staff has been better. And Iannetta has thrown out nine of his last 20.
"I'm really proud of the pitching staff; they've done a great job of stepping up and slowly starting to make adjustments," Iannetta said. "They put some effort to it, identified it as a problem, worked on their times and they're starting to come down and be quicker to the plate. Do I think we're where we need to be? No, but we're moving in the right direction."
Crew chief Barrett: The baseballs were rubbed up
ARLINGTON -- Every night, the umpires' room attendant at Rangers Ballpark rubs up numerous baseballs with special mud and piles them into a bag. A ball boy then scoops it up and brings the baseballs to the home-plate umpire, who rifles through the pile and handpicks the ones he'll use for that day's game.
Crew chief Ted Barrett said Friday was no different.
C.J. Wilson was suspicious during that night's 5-3 loss because, in his mind, an inordinate amount of baseballs at his former stadium were not rubbed up. Manager Mike Scioscia confirmed that some of the balls looked like they came right out of the box and pitching coach Mike Butcher said many times it felt like Wilson was throwing "a cue ball."
But Barrett said Saturday morning that all the baseballs were rubbed up.
"They were all rubbed with mud," he said. "Mike DiMuro was working home plate [and is at third base Saturday morning]. Each ball he got had mud on it. I guess they weren't rubbed to C.J.'s liking, but they were all rubbed.
"No balls came out of the wrapper. Every ball had mud on it."
Asked if some balls just didn't have enough mud on them, Barrett said: "Yeah, that's possible. But they definitely had mud on them. None of them came out of the box."
Wilson managed to pitch six innings of three-run ball, but struggled with his command all night -- particularly in a two-run third inning that saw him uncork three wild pitches, hit two batters and walk another. Afterwards, Wilson didn't go so far as to accuse the Rangers of not rubbing up the balls before the game to purposely throw him off, but he didn't really dismiss the notion, either. The veteran left-hander said only "one out of every four" was rubbed up and "balls were kind of squirting around."
"Are you going to call it a coincidence?" Wilson said. "It's not a coincidence. Let's be honest."
Scioscia said some of the baseballs "still had packing dust on them," but the Angels' skipper believes the Rangers "were using the same ones" and simply said Wilson was "just off all night."
As of an hour before the 11 a.m. CT first pitch, Barrett hadn't had a chance to speak with Scioscia about the previous night's baseballs.
"Some pitchers are more finicky -- they like the darker balls," Barrett said. "Some pitchers, they don't like a slick ball. But the important thing is the balls came out of the same bag, both pitchers were using the same balls. It's the same thing that happens every night.
"The umpire attendant rubs up literally thousands of baseball every year. A lot of times we get complaints from hitters that they're too dark, and we get complaints from pitchers that they don't have enough mud on them."
• Garrett Richards took an Ian Kinsler comebacker to his right armpit in the second inning of Saturday's 7-4 loss, but the 25-year-old felt fine shortly thereafter, saying: "Out of all the ones I've taken this year, that was one of the lighter ones."
• Exiled starting pitcher Tommy Hanson pitched three scoreless relief innings Saturday, giving up one hit and one walk with one strikeout. Manager Mike Scioscia said, "His motion looked good, his delivery looked better, the ball was coming out with better life, and hopefully Tommy's moving towards that because that's when he's at his best."
• With a pinch-hit double in the ninth inning, Josh Hamilton extended his hitting streak to a season-high 13 games and put his batting average at .250 -- the highest it's been all season. Hamilton is batting .331 (55-for-166) over his last 44 games.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.