By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — One thing is clear: players and managers are still confused.
Saturday night against the Oakland Athletics the Seattle Mariners went through two more rounds of trying to determine what is and is not a catch.
Twice, Seattle left fielder Dustin Ackley, a converted second baseman, dropped a transfer of the ball from his glove to throwing hand. Twice, runners were confused.
The first time, Ackley slid to his left and appeared to have caught a line drive with a runner on first. Pulling the ball out of his glove, he dropped it. It was immediately ruled no catch, but the Oakland runners were confused enough that both ended up on first base after passing each other between first and second.
Later in the game, Ackley again dropped the transfer following a Yoenis Cespedes fly ball. Ackley was again fortunate the play produced an out. Cespedes was so convinced it was a catch, he turned back toward the dugout. Eventually, the Mariners worked the ball back to first base to record a 7-6-3 out.
“I guess you really have to focus on the exchange now, that’s the most important part,” Ackley said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to learn the hard way.”
The Mariners have been involved in catch-or-not debates four times in 10 games. Twice with Ackley, once with center fielder Abraham Almonte and once with outfielder Josh Hamilton of the Los Angeles Angels.
The rule, and interpretation, of what is and what is not a catch has been changed this season. For instance, Major League Baseball says, “One example of a catch that would not count is if a fielder loses possession of the ball during the transfer before the ball was secured by his throwing hand.” That would be what happened to Ackley twice. It also happened to Hamilton.
All of which has Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon unclear as to what’s a catch and not.
“I’m as frustrated as the next person,” McClendon said. “You try to be politically correct with your statements, but I’m really worried about where we’re heading with replay … the effect that it’s having on the games and the effects it’s having on the fans.
“Hell, I don’t even know when to celebrate anymore. You don’t know if it’s going to be challenged. For me, I think it’s slowing the game down. I’ve been trying to be a fan of it. I initially, thought it was going to be good for the game, but I’m not so sure. I’m really not.”
Players have been discussing replay and the new rules internally. The Mariners’ representative in the players’ association is reliever Charlie Furbush. He said they haven’t had a discussion with Major League Baseball yet about the transfer rule.
“More of a work in a progress at this point,” Furbush said. “There’s nothing that I know of for changes to be happening any time soon.”
Ackley said he will begin to slow down transfers with no runners on base, opting to show the catch to an umpire. He also points out making a transfer from a larger outfielder’s glove, as opposed to the small models second basemen use, can be tricky.
But, with runners on base, he’s still going to make the transfer as quickly as possible.
“I think when it’s a situation where a guy’s tagging, you’ve just got to do what you can do,” Ackley said. “If you happen to drop it, you drop it.”
McClendon is searching for answers.
“It’s confusing as hell,” he said.
Justin Smoak’s efficient footwork and smooth picks at first base make his defense appear routine. It’s at a level that McClendon said is deserving of high recognition.
“I think he’s a Gold Glove type of first baseman,” McClendon said. “I think probably the reason he has not won a Gold Glove to this point is his offensive numbers haven’t been there. It’s funny. I’ve always said Gold Glove is more an offensive award than a defensive award. If you look at the first baseman’s in the league, I think he’s as good as any of them.”
Smoak was able to show his fielding ability again on Sunday when he grabbed a high hop and was able to get an out at second base.