Catchers coach House gets unique with drills

Skipper Bell: 'There's nothing wrong with having a little fun'

February 28th, 2021

Now in his third season with the club, Reds catching coach J.R. House has introduced all sorts of drills to improve catchers’ agility, reaction time, pitch framing, blocking and receiving.

“We've got all kinds of new stuff, you can't stay stagnant,” House said Feb. 19. “One of the biggest things is just: these guys like new stuff, but it can't be hokey, it has to be something that will help them. There has to be data to support it and a theme and a reason why we're doing it. We're not just making up stuff to make up stuff. It's something that helps build skill and helps them be better catchers in general.”

One of House’s catchers, Tucker Barnhart, is the reigning National League Gold Glove Award winner.

On Saturday during camp in Goodyear, Ariz., and apparently inspired by the old TV show, “American Gladiators,” House -- who is also the third-base coach -- donned stars-and-stripes pants, wristbands and a headband as Reds catchers performed in a skills competition. Advance scouting manager Bo Thompson wore a singlet as he fired balls at them out of a machine.

“Yeah, I’ve never seen that before either, but it sure was fun,” Reds manager David Bell said Sunday. “It was just a way of mixing it up a little bit, finding a way to add competition into camp. In a lot of ways, our catching group, they’ve been a good leader in what they do for our team. They’ve kind of been up and front with a lot of different, creative ideas. It was fun to be a part of that. I think that was step one. I think there might be another step in the 'American Gladiator' competition. But yeah, it was fun to watch. … There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun.”

One drill had rookie Tyler Stephenson running on all four limbs uphill dodging rolling obstacles. Another had them in the prone position before standing and catching pop flies.

“They all did a good job. There was some tough competition,” Bell said. “I tried one of them, it was a pop-up drill. We had a machine and it was shooting the ball up. And the high sky, the sun, you’re down in a push-up position, and you have to try to find the ball. It was tough. So they got a lot out of it. It wasn’t just fun. It was some good practice also.”

Heineman competing for outfield spot

When the Reds acquired outfielder Scott Heineman from the Rangers on Dec. 16 in a trade for a Minor Leaguer, Heineman joined a roster that was loaded with outfielders already like Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama and Aristides Aquino. Heineman didn’t view his quest to make the club out of camp any differently, however.

“If you start to look at the stat sheet and all the names on the roster, that’s the wrong way to go about it,” Heineman said. “I think it’s just keep your head down, stay focused on what you can control and let the chips fall where they may. Play your butt off and hopefully you’re good enough to stay on this team and do the intangible things. Obviously, be a great clubhouse guy and be a guy who’s willing to sacrifice for the team and do whatever the team asks and let the rest take care of itself.”

Heineman, 28, played 24 games for Texas in 2020 and batted .154 with one home run and seven RBIs. The homer came on Aug. 1 vs. the Giants, and it was a special one. His brother, Tyler, was behind the plate for San Francisco. Tyler Heineman is now with the Cardinals, trying to earn a spot as Yadier Molina’s backup, which could mean more games with the brothers on opposite sides.

“Oh man, that’s what we play for,” Heineman said. “If we can both keep our heads down and make the team, now we’re in the same league and we can see each other 20 times this year. It’s a great opportunity for our family to come out and watch the games. I just like seeing him on the field. I am going to do all I can to make that happen and I know he’s going to do that on his side.”

Perez working with Pedro

Reds reliever and bullpen candidate Hector Perez, who was acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays last month, spends his offseasons at home in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and often works with Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez. This past winter, that work increased.

“I spent the whole offseason training with him and Ramon Martinez, too,” Perez said. “We spend so much time talking about sequence, how can I set up hitters, how can I use my stuff to be more effective and about locations and the mental game, too. That’s it. That’s where we focused in the offseason and I think that helped me a lot.”