Catcher’s interference call sets Tigers grumbling

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Houston — The topic before the game in manager Brad Ausmus’ office was the dreaded catcher’s interference rule.

The Astros lead baseball, having been awarded first base six times on catcher’s interference. No other team has more than two and the other 29 teams combined have 10. George Springer on Wednesday night turned a strikeout into a catcher’s interference in the third inning and wound up scoring.

Tigers catcher Alex Avila was none too pleased about it.

“It hit the back of my hand, not so much glove; it hit my hand in the glove,” Avila said. “The ball was in my glove and he decided to swing. I know he’s not doing that on purpose, but ... the ball’s in my glove and then he swings and he gets awarded first base.

“I think that might be a rule that Major League Baseball should look at.”

Ausmus, who caught for 18 seasons in the big leagues, agreed that hitters can exploit the rule.

“You can, but not many do,” he said. “You can swing late and deep, especially with two strikes and especially when you are already letting the ball travel deeper. You can take advantage of that. But, like I said, not many do.”

The Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury does, or seems to. He’s led baseball in that category for three years. He’s the only guy for whom the Tigers instruct their catchers to set up farther back.

'Frustrating': Verlander can't hold lead, Tigers fall

But as far as changing the rule to give umpires more leeway to determine whether the hitter might have instigated the contact, Ausmus wouldn’t go that far.

“I can’t imagine they are preaching that,” Ausmus said. “I am sure their hitting coaches aren’t preaching that: ‘Hey, listen, if you don’t think you can get a hit off a guy, and you’ve got two strikes, go ahead and hit the catcher.’

“I don’t think that’s happening.”

Ausmus said when he caught, he set up further back than most catchers and didn’t get called for catcher’s interference often.

“I did have two in one game, though, when I was with the Tigers,” he said. “Jacque Jones got me twice, and I didn’t get many.”

Avila, though, was adamant. There he was Wednesday night, with an ice pack on his swollen left wrist and hand, wondering how he got an error on a strikeout.

“I get it if it hit the front of my glove, but it hit my wrist,” Avila said. “There’s a big difference there. I know Springer isn’t doing it on purpose; though I know they have a quite a few interference calls earlier this year.

“But when you’re that far behind (the pitch) and the ball’s in the glove, it (ticks) you off that he gets awarded first base. That’s what I was mad about. The ball was in my glove. There was no shot there. You just stick the bat down and hit my glove, hit my hand, and get awarded first base.”

Ausmus put it this way: “I don’t think MLB needs to look at the rule. But if it becomes a trend and teams start trying to hit the catcher’s mitt, then I think they should revisit it.”

No sentimentality

Tigers right-hander Jordan Zimmermann recorded the 1,000th strikeout of his career on Tuesday night and he had catcher James McCann toss the ball to the dugout for safe-keeping.

Or so he thought.

McCann gave the ball to third-base coach Dave Clark, who had no idea it was from Zimmermann’s milestone strikeout.

Clark, as he does every inning as he heads out to his coaching box, tossed the ball to a fan for a souvenir.

“Yeah, there’s somebody out there right now rubbing up that ball,” Zimmermann said.

Clark felt horrible when he found out what he’d done.

“You know when I found out about it?” he said. “We were having dinner after the game and (Zimmermann) walked up to me and he goes, ‘Is there any chance you kept the ball Mac gave you?’ And I said, ‘No, what was the significance of it?’ ‘Well, that was my 1,000th strikeout.’

“So I gave him a ball from last night’s game. … I felt like a piece of crap, but I didn’t know. I don’t even think Mac knew.”

Around the horn

The Tigers will call-up right-hander Buck Farmer, using the league’s 26th man rule, to start the first game of the double-header in Chicago today. The game is a make-up from a rainout in the first week of the season. Farmer got off to a strong start this season, but has had three straight bumpy starts at Toledo.

… Shane Greene continues to be a force out of the Tigers bullpen. After getting five straight outs Wednesday, he had allowed just one run (a Mike Trout home run) over his last 14 appearances, covering 16 2/3 innings. Opponents hit .155 off him in that stretch. His 1.19 ERA is ninth among American League relievers.

… J.D. Martinez returned to the lineup Thursday after one night off. Nick Castellanos was rested for a second night. He is expected back today. Dixon Machado got the start at third base. @cmccosky