When Colin Poche landed on the 60-day IL with a torn UCL just 5 days ago, the Rays decided to roster a third catcher, 32 year old veteran Kevan Smith.
That move was a head scratcher for some as many expected Kevin Cash to replace Poche with another pitcher and enter the season with 2 catchers in Mike Zunino and Michael Perez. Cash himself had said the team expected to carry up to 17 pitchers and Poche had been No. 16. Instead, he essentially traded a bullpen spot for more offense.
A third catcher somehow brings a better offense? Yes, in a roundabout way.
A third catcher on the roster has given Cash the flexibility in his lineup to pinch hit and pinch run more often at the catcher position in the lineup. And that flexibility is even more valuable at the start of this strange season where we have more position players than normal on the bench, ready to pinch hit and pinch run.
It only took two games for that strategy to payoff. Here’s how it went down:
Michael Perez started at catcher in Saturday’s game vs. the Toronto Blue Jays. After drawing a walk to get on base in the 6th inning, Cash chose to pull him for pinch runner Michael Brosseau. Ji-Man Choi would then knock a double, and Brosseau hustles to score from 1B.
In comes Mike Zunino to take over at C. He fields 2 innings, then singles in the bottom of the 8th. Cash has a third catcher on the bench, so he decides to pinch run for Zunino as well. Hunter Renfroe takes Z’s place and scores from 2B on Brandon Lowe’s triple. Kevan Smith then subs in to close out the game behind the dish.
✌️ more added!— FOX Sports Sun: Rays (@FOXSportsRays) July 25, 2020
Brandon Lowe drives in Hunter Renfroe and Ji-Man Choi on his triple! @RaysBaseball up 3-1!
Watch more #RaysUp action on FOX Sports Sun & FOX Sports Go: https://t.co/nWrNtkerQ5 pic.twitter.com/ocBoz9Acpb
So while Zunino would have still scored from 2B on the triple, its not certain whether Cash would pinch run for Perez that early in the game without a 3rd catcher on the bench. It’s more likely that he let’s Perez run the bases there, and who knows if he gets waived around and makes it all the way home.
It’s unknown whether this sort of strategy can continue as MLB forces teams to cut rosters to 28 and 26 men in the coming weeks, but for now Cash can be more aggressive with pinch running and pinch hitting for his catchers now that he has 3 on his roster.