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Saltalamacchia learning pitchers on the fly

Recent addition to team excited about quality of Blue Jays' staff
MLB.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- For Jarrod Saltalamacchia, it's kind of like cramming for a final exam.

The veteran catcher was signed by the Blue Jays a week before camp began. That means he's now undergoing a crash course in learning everything he can about the pitching staff he'll be working with this season when starter Russell Martin gets a day off.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- For Jarrod Saltalamacchia, it's kind of like cramming for a final exam.

The veteran catcher was signed by the Blue Jays a week before camp began. That means he's now undergoing a crash course in learning everything he can about the pitching staff he'll be working with this season when starter Russell Martin gets a day off.

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"It's going real well," the 31-year-old said before Thursday's Grapefruit League game against the Phillies at Spectrum Field. "The more times you get to catch these guys, the better you feel. You get to know them and how their mind thinks a little bit. That way you can kind of get on the same page."

The relationship between the pitchers and catchers is talked about a lot but is rarely defined.

"It's a trust factor," Saltalamacchia explained. "We've got to trust them that they can make a pitch, and they've got to trust us that we know what we're doing back there. I think the biggest key is to be honest with those guys and let them know what you think their stuff's doing."

It helps that he's done this before. He's with his seventh different organization (starting with the Braves and then going to the Rangers, Red Sox, Marlins, D-backs and Tigers) and fourth in the last three years.

"It's definitely not easy. It's not something you learn in one day. Or two weeks, really," Saltalamacchia said. "I've become more patient with it. So in Spring Training I try to take every chance I can to catch these guys in the 'pen, or catch them in as many games as possible. It just takes time."

When Francisco Liriano turned his season around after being traded to Toronto last year, Martin -- a former Pittsburgh teammate -- was given a lot of credit. With Saltalamacchia behind the plate Thursday, Liriano was dominant. He gave up just one walk, struck out five and didn't allow a ball to be hit out of the infield.

Then again, they played together in the Dominican Winter League a decade ago.

"He's easy to work with," Liriano said.

The Blue Jays are also looking for him to add some pop to their lineup when he plays. On Thursday he crushed his second home run of the spring to right-center off starter Jerad Eickhoff, who led the Phillies' rotation in starts and earned run average last season. He also singled in the second and again in the fourth against Alec Asher.

Even though he signed late, Saltalamacchia said he couldn't be in a better situation because of the quality of the pitchers he'll work with and because the Blue Jays are a team that came within two wins of going to the World Series last fall.

"I'm at a point in my career where I've won before, and I want to win again," he said. "It's just so much fun being at the top of your sport. And the chemistry of this team is really good. You've got a lot of veteran guys and a lot of young guys, and they're mixing well."

Paul Hagen is a contributor for MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays, Jarrod Saltalamacchia