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Indians' catching combo is club's safety net

Gomes, Perez provide calming presence to staff thanks to their defense
Special to MLB.com

PHOENIX -- A few things define the Cleveland catching combo. They both want to play every day. They both could. Neither makes a big deal out of it.

Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez could make a strong case as the best 1-2 punch in the American League, and it starts with their work on the defensive side, the less glamorous but more valuable part of the job, considering the demands each game presents. A catcher might bat four times a game; he will call roughly 150 pitches and face around 15 runners looking to connive their way into an extra base.

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PHOENIX -- A few things define the Cleveland catching combo. They both want to play every day. They both could. Neither makes a big deal out of it.

Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez could make a strong case as the best 1-2 punch in the American League, and it starts with their work on the defensive side, the less glamorous but more valuable part of the job, considering the demands each game presents. A catcher might bat four times a game; he will call roughly 150 pitches and face around 15 runners looking to connive their way into an extra base.

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Gomes put it nicely into perspective.

"Some hitters are home run hitters," he said.

"We are throw-out guys."

Yes. Yes, they are.

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Not that offense is an afterthought, of course. Gomes and Perez combined to drive in 94 runs last season, which was third among AL catching groups. Their 22 homers, 14 by Gomes, was exactly the league average.

The other side of the ball is where they separate themselves.

Cleveland catchers threw out 43 percent of attempted basestealers last season, the best percentage in the Majors, the second season in three in which the Indians finished in the top two and the fourth consecutive year in the top five. The Major League average was 26 percent.

There is little wonder why Cleveland calls among the fewest pitchouts in the league.

"We like throwing out guys," Gomes said. "We like controlling our staff. When you can help a staff out by throwing a guy out, they like it, we love it. 

"At the end of the day if you go 0-fer on the hitting side but you doing something really big defensively and we win a ball game, we did our job."

Advanced metrics provide even more evidence of their value. 

Video: CIN@CLE: Gomes makes a tough play to retire Hamilton

Gomes and Perez combined to "save" 11 runs more than the average catcher last season, according to baseball-reference.com. Gomes was second in the league with seven. Only the Angels had more, 13, and no other group saved more than six.

Indians manager Terry Francona does not need convincing.

 "I feel like we have a frontline catcher catching every day," Francona said. "Rarely is it where you have both catchers and anybody can catch anybody. You don't have to alter the game when one is in the game. When we are scouting teams and [the stolen base is] a part of their game, it is a nice feeling to know we have both of them back there, because there is not a lot worse than not being able to stop guys from running, because it gets ugly."

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The catchers' success in the throwing game transfers to pitching staff as well.

"It gives you a little more, I wouldn't say ease, but you don't have to be as conscious of how quick you are to the plate or how much you are holding the guy," said Mike Clevinger, scheduled to make his third spring start Monday. 

"As long as you are doing your job on the mound enough to keep the running game [in check], they are going to keep it shut down."

Video: TEX@CLE: Perez ropes an RBI double to right-center

Game-calling goes along with it, at least where Clevinger is concerned. Most of the time, he shakes off signs only when he is told to, he said.

"You don't feel like second-guessing your game plan," he said. "You know they have a good plan of attack in place. There will be times when I trust what they are calling more than I have in my head. I know that goes against pitching philosophy, but a lot of times it works out in good favor."

Gomes and Perez credit the time spent with Sandy Alomar, a former Gold Glover.

"That's my No. 1 thing to do," Perez said. "I take a lot of pride in my defense. I work hard at it. I don't ever want to slide."

Perez has caught most of Trevor Bauer's starts, and Francona said that is likely to continue early this season. Other than that, hot streaks, injuries and matchups will have a lot to do with the starter on a particular night, the way it has been recently.

"They both want to be the guy," Francona said. "I understand that. I actually respect that. We know what we have. The things that we value, catching first, they adhere to that."

Perez and Gomes understand.

"We have a great relationship," Perez said. 

"I know he wants to play every day. I want to play every day. But at the end of the day, it's a matter of going out there, whoever is catching, and trying to help the team win any way we can. He's a great catcher. We have a lot of respect for each other. We just want to win."

Jack Magruder is a contributor to MLB.com.

Cleveland Indians