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Catchers, pitchers working on slowing baserunners

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HOUSTON -- If there's one department on the Angels that needs to improve from last season -- and surely there is more than one -- it's shutting down the running game. They ranked 28th in the Majors in caught-stealing percentage in 2013 (21.1 percent), while giving up the second-most stolen bases in baseball (131).

"I don't care about the numbers; it needs to get better for us to win," Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. "It's tough to go no outs, one out, guy on first base and you have a double play in order, and all of a sudden it's the same scenario with a runner on second or third and now they're in scoring position. We need to keep guys out of scoring position, keep a double play in order so we can get a ground-ball double play."

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Iannetta gunned down 19.2 percent of would-be base-stealers and Hank Conger's rate was 24.2 percent (the Major League average is 27.2 percent). But the consensus on the Angels -- from the coaching staff to the pitchers to the catchers themselves -- is that the pitchers have to be quicker to the plate to give Iannetta and Conger a chance.

The Angels' struggles with opponent stolen bases came to a head from Aug. 6-7, when the Rangers stole a combined 13 bases in two games. After that, though, the Angels put a greater emphasis on pitchers being quicker to the plate and got a little better in that department, with an opponents' stolen-base percentage that ranked 13th.

"Before that," Iannetta said, "we were terrible at it."

The Angels, who had thrown out two of five runners heading into Sunday, should be better with three lefties in the starting rotation this year. But that won't matter if C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs aren't holding runners well.

"If you're slow to the plate and you don't give catchers and middle infielders a chance to make a play, then it doesn't matter [if you're right-handed or left-handed]," Iannetta said. "You have to be able to hold a guy close and they have to not be able to outrun your leg kick, too."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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