Avila experimenting with new crouch, hockey-style mask
Catcher hopes to minimize concussion risk
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Friday marked the first official workout for Tigers pitchers, some of whom were trying out new tweaks to improve their delivery. The same goes for the guy who caught some of them.
For Alex Avila, Friday marked the public debut of the hockey-style mask he has adopted in an attempt to reduce his risk for concussions after a series of foul tips over the last few years. While everyone was looking at his head, however, they missed the adjustment he made with his feet.
"You may or may not have noticed Alex was catching on one knee today," manager Brad Ausmus said.
As Avila caught relief prospect Angel Nesbitt and starter Alfredo Simon, he had his left knee on the ground, instead of his usual crouch. It's a change he made at Ausmus' suggestion to lower his profile behind the plate and leave less of a target for foul balls and backswings.
"Foul tips tend to come off the top half of the bat and are traveling very slightly upward," Ausmus said. "Getting him lower will allow those foul tips to give him more of a glancing blow or avoid his mask altogether."
Avila, who converted to catching at the University of Alabama, has caught out of a crouch with both knees up for his whole career. However, he said it's not a major adjustment for him.
"We talked about it during TigerFest, something we were going to look into," Avila said. "It wasn't anything we were thinking we were going to drastically change. It's just playing around to see what I can do and still feel comfortable, with the idea of maybe reducing some of the foul balls."
It wouldn't be a full-time adjustment. In situations where a runner could steal or advance on a wild pitch, Avila would go back to his usual crouch for the mobility. Still, it could make a difference.
"It may save a few foul tips here and there," he said. "I don't know how much it'll help, but it's worth a try to see what happens. I don't feel hindered or restricted doing it. It actually might help a little bit. Maybe we'll get a few more low pitches."
As for the hockey-style mask, Avila said it felt fine.
"Once it's on, I don't even realize that it's there," he said. "What I'll have to figure out is whether I'm going to leave it on or take it off on popups, bunt plays, thinks like that. It just depends on how I wear, whether I have a hat on underneath. I'm still playing around with that, see what way feels better. But once it's on, it's comfortable."