When the Rays acquired catchers Michael Perez from Arizona and Mike Zunino from Seattle, the team’s defensive capabilities behind the plate were strongly improved.
Facing the 2017 World Series champions to start the 2019 campaign, these two young catchers showed off their defensive skills and did their part to help secure the Rays’ first series win of the season.
On Opening Day, it was Mike Zunino getting the nod behind the plate as the battery mate for Blake Snell. Zunino threw out two Houston runners trying to steal on him, and those runners quickly found out how expeditiously Zunino could get the ball from home plate to second. Yuli Gurriel was the first baserunner to find this out.
Yuli Gurriel caught stealing by Zunino... Pop time was 2 seconds flat.— Daren Willman (@darenw) March 28, 2019
Then, in the sixth inning, Astros outfielder Michael Brantley tried his hand with stealing on Zunino, and that didn’t work out as well as Brantley had hoped it would.
In the third game of the series, Michael Perez was behind the plate, catching for Tyler Glasnow. Jose Altuve tried stealing on Perez in the first inning, but the Rays catcher made sure that the attempt would end unsuccessfully.
In the following inning, Perez showed off his impressive blocking ability, preventing a low curveball from Glasnow to get past him and risk advancing the runners on first and second.
In the final game of the series, Mike Zunino was back behind the plate as the battery mate for Yonny Chirinos. An impressive block on a hard splitter by Chirinos prevented Jake Marisnick from going any farther than first base.
On the very next pitch to George Springer, Chirinos induced a swing and miss to strike out Springer, and Zunino threw out Marisnick at second to end the inning with a “strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out.” You might remember this play as the one that strained Joey Wendle’s hamstring:
While the bat for Zunino has yet to come around, his defense behind the plate hasn’t missed a beat after ranking seventh in Throwing Runs by Baseball Prospectus last season.
Michael Perez, in limited playing time last season, recorded 0.5 Blocking Runs last season and more defensive performances like the one from Saturday show the potential for that number to be surpassed by plenty.
The Rays have two very capable catchers on the active roster, both of which have shown the ability to excel defensively. Although one series is a very limited sample size, if these two backstops can continue to play at this level, the catching position will be the least of the Rays’ worries for the foreseeable future.