Daily Egyptian

Saluki coaches lightening load for new catchers

By Thomas Donley, @tdonleyDE

Catcher is the most demanding position in all of baseball.

The backstop calls pitches and has to make sure those pitches stay in front of him. He has to play his position in a stance that causes wear and tear on his body and must be able to take a foul ball or two off his body. And he must do all this while performing well offensively.

The SIU baseball team has two catchers on the roster, both of whom are new to Division I baseball. The Saluki coaching staff has decided to take some of those responsibilities off their shoulders.

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Pitching coach P.J. Finigan has been calling pitches from the dugout this season in an attempt to allow junior college transfer junior Taylor Martin and freshman Nick Hutchins to make an easier transition to Division I baseball.

SIU allowed its catchers to call their own pitches last season and this past fall, but Finigan said his familiarity with the pitching staff was the deciding factor in placing that responsibility in the dugout.

“I think it’s going pretty well,” Finigan said. “I know the pitchers a little bit better than the catchers do, so it’s been alright. There were some growing pains, but we’re figuring out each guy’s strengths and how to exploit them.”

Before each pitch, the Saluki catcher peers into the dugout for a sign from Finigan that corresponds to a pitch listed on the black wrist band on his left arm. He then relays the signal for that pitch to the hurler.

Finigan pitched for SIU from 2002 to 2005 and reached the AA level in the Detroit Tigers’ organization before suffering a career-ending injury.

Senior pitcher Bryce Sablotny said he trusts Finigan’s experience.

“I like it,” Sablotny said. “Me and Fin, we’re usually on the same page. There’s rarely a call where I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ If he wants it, there’s a reason for it, and it’s all about execution.”

Last season, SIU pitchers compiled a 3.50 ERA. This year, the Salukis are last in the Missouri Valley Conference with an ERA of 6.42. Only five pitchers who made five appearances in 2014 have pitched as often or more in 2015.

Finigan said pitchers are allowed to shake off his calls if they so choose.

“Whenever I talk about calling pitches it’s just a suggestion,” he said. “Whatever they’re comfortable with is what they need to throw, and they know that.”

Martin, a transfer from Walters State Community College, said allowing Finigan to call pitches does not bother him.

“I used to call pitches in high school,” Martin said. “But in junior college, we had the pitching coach call it, so getting back to the wrist band was pretty easy.” 

A few times this season, Finigan has given his catcher free reign to call pitches. No decision has been made at this point, but Finigan said he would prefer to have the catchers call their own pitches next year.

“I would like for the catchers to call it because the game goes a lot quicker,” Finigan said. “Part of what we would like to do is play at a quicker pace.”

Martin is confident in his ability to call his own game when or if that day comes.

“Just learning from Coach Fin and my pitching coach in junior college, I definitely feel like I have the ability to call a game,” Martin said. “I’ve called a couple games this year, and they went well, so I feel good that I could call it.”

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269.

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