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OAKLAND – The baseball rulebook is the furthest thing from John Jaso’s mind when a runner is barreling down the third base line toward him.
So when the Oakland A’s catcher prepped himself for a close play at home plate Monday night, he handled the play the way he normally did before new rules were implemented this season banning catchers from blocking the plate.
Jaso took a throw from pitcher Sonny Gray in the sixth inning, slid just a bit into the base line and put the tag on Cleveland’s Michael Brantley in a close play. The umpires requested instant replay to review whether Jaso’s actions were within the rules, and it was ruled they were.
“I was surprised (the play was reviewed),” Jaso said Tuesday. “Brantley made it to the plate when he slid. It’s not like I stopped him from reaching the plate. I thought it was fine. I felt like I gave him a lot of the plate to slide into. I just did it in instinctually, the way I was taught years ago and the way I’ve always been doing it.”
Major League Baseball rule 7.13 says a catcher may block the runner’s path to the plate once he has possession of the ball, but not before that. Likewise, a runner can’t deviate from his path to the plate to initiate contact with a catcher.
There’s sure to be a gray area – and controversy – all season long as umpires figure out how to rule on such a judgement call. The plan is to evaluate the rule this season and see if it’s suitable to keep beyond 2014.
A’s manager Bob Melvin, a former catcher himself, said bang-bang plays such as Monday’s are the toughest for a catcher because there’s no time to really think about proper positioning.
“When the ball is coming from the outfield, you have a little more time to kind of sense where you are,” Melvin said. “When it’s coming from the infield, especially the pitcher, it’s all instinctive. You see where the runner is and you try to get the ball and get to the runner as quickly as you can.
“The way we’re teaching it, you don’t catch the ball blocking the plate. You catch the ball and then you take it away.”
Lost in that play Monday night was the great effort that Gray made in fielding the ball and getting it to Jaso. Melvin said Gray’s athleticism makes him like an extra infielder on the diamond. The right-hander made a running catch of a pop-up in foul territory between third and home that might have dropped had he not gotten it.
“Whether it’s bunt plays, fielding his position, he does all those things beautifully,” Melvin said. “He’s a great athlete. I’m guessing he could be a pretty good hitter too. We are a better defensive team when he’s on the mound.”
Gray took a comebacker off his right ankle in making that sixth inning play. He was walking with a big ice pack on the ankle Tuesday afternoon, but he was able to lift weights and also was supposed to play catch. Gray said he believed he would be fine for his next start Sunday against Seattle.