CHICAGO -- It began with a conversation in Spring Training. Indians catcher Yan Gomes discussed pick-off plays with Mike Napoli, gauging both the first baseman's comfort level and willingness to take an aggressive approach if particular situations arose this season.Napoli told Gomes that he was all for it, and Cleveland
CHICAGO -- It began with a conversation in Spring Training. Indians catcher Yan Gomes discussed pick-off plays with Mike Napoli, gauging both the first baseman's comfort level and willingness to take an aggressive approach if particular situations arose this season.
Napoli told Gomes that he was all for it, and Cleveland saw the results of their preseason preparation in the second inning of Friday's 7-1 win over the White Sox. With runners on first and second and one out, Gomes and Napoli executed a textbook pick-off play, nabbing Avisail Garcia at first base to help snuff out a potential Chicago rally.
"I thought they did that yesterday to perfection," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Saturday morning. "The timing, the throw. If one thing's off, it can really [unravel]."
At the time, the Tribe held a 5-0 lead, but Indians starter Danny Salazar was struggling to command his pitches in the wintry weather and issued consecutive one-out walks to Melky Cabrera and Garcia. Following Salazar's first pitch to Brett Lawrie, Napoli noticed Garcia taking a large secondary lead.
The first baseman made a subtle signal to Gomes, and the play was on.
"Being a former catcher, he loves doing that," Gomes said of Napoli. "We talked a little bit about it this spring, and he showed a lot of interest in it. He said, 'Sure.' So I was like, 'OK, just get there, and I'll try to hit you in the chest,' and then let him figure him out how to tackle the guy."
Salazar unleashed a 96-mph fastball, which Lawrie swung through for strike two. Gomes received the pitch and swiftly shifted out of his crouch, firing the ball at 78.1 mph to first base, according to Statcast™. Garcia had taken a secondary lead of 19.4 feet, creating plenty of room for Napoli to burst to the bag ahead of him. The runner retreated and dove, but the first baseman already had the ball and slapped on the tag for the out.
"I was surprised," Salazar said with a grin. "I didn't think he was going to throw there, but he did and he got the out. That was huge."
On the play, Gomes had a pop time (the time between the ball hitting Gomes' glove and reaching Napoli's glove) of 1.48 seconds. Among pop times to first tracked in 2015, the average was 1.63 seconds. Among the individual catchers, only David Ross and Salvador Perez (1.50 seconds each) had a better average pop time to first than Gomes (1.51).
"You've got to have someone solid behind the plate [to pull it off]," Napoli said. "He's seeing everything. It just goes back to doing anything you can to try to help that pitcher in situations. You're always thinking about, 'What can I do to help this guy get through this inning?'"
Salazar finished off Lawrie with a strikeout and immediately met his catcher beyond the first-base line after walking off the mound. Salazar gave him a high-five and then slapped him in celebration on the shoulder. The pickoff halted what could have developed into a big inning for Chicago.
"It's definitely a good feeling when a pitcher recognizes it, like, 'Thanks for getting me off the hook,'" Gomes said. "As much as, yeah, I made the throw, it's not only me, though. I just happened to be the one who threw the guy out. It began with him making a good pitch for me to throw on and Napoli getting there. All three of us made the right call."
Now, perhaps the pick-off play will be in the back of the minds of baserunners.
"Now it shortens people up," Napoli said. "It makes that double play being able to be turned a little easier. They're not right on top of the guys at second. It might shorten up their secondary [lead]. When the ball's going through the zone, they might be a little hesitant to get out there. Maybe they're thinking more back than forward.
"It does a lot. It does a lot of things. It puts it in their mind, 'We've got to be safe here.'"
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.