Tigers catching tandem offers differing styles

Tigers catching tandem offers differing styles

CHICAGO -- The Tigers' Jarrod Saltalamacchia donned the catching gear and got behind the plate Friday against the White Sox, making his fourth start in six games. He had the task of catching rookie sensation Michael Fulmer, who has pitched to Saltalamacchia and James McCann seven games apiece.

On Saturday, the Tigers will send out Matt Boyd, who has pitched to only Saltalamacchia in his previous eight Tigers starts this season. But with the White Sox starting lefty Chris Sale, McCann could get back behind the plate for matchups.

There are no personal catchers on the Tigers, but there are personal styles catchers bring behind the plate with them -- some by preference, some by experience level. For McCann, his attention to detail has been exceptional since he stuck in the big leagues last year. For Saltalamacchia, the strength is his experience of 10 years in the Majors, which has helped him quickly adapt to a new pitching staff.

"He's got experience, and experience is huge at that position," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said of Saltalamacchia. "With the exception of maybe pitcher, it's the one position where experience really can affect the team, not just the individual."

Ausmus knows by his experience, having caught in 1,938 Major League games over 18 seasons. He also knows that McCann is gaining in that area, especially learning opposing hitters within the AL Central. For all the emphasis on statistical tendencies, Ausmus said, experience is vital, especially in making adjustments during a game.

"It's easy to follow a scouting report, but you have to be able to see something in front of you," Ausmus said. "Your eyes aren't going to lie. If you see something in front of you and you have that experience, you recognize something. I would always go with my eyes before I go with [what's on] a piece of paper."

The same goes for Saltalamacchia and McCann alike. McCann saw the benefit as a rookie last year from Alex Avila, who has the benefit of playing his entire career in the same division.

"When you play against guys for five or six years, you see patterns and you see their adjustments," McCann said. "The more you see something, the more it's in your mind. Instead of seeing something in a scouting report and writing it down, this is something that you're conscious of and you remember."

Both Saltalamacchia and McCann use a blend of everything in their game planning, from first-hand experience to video work to statistical reports.

"Alex had seen guys in the division for many years, whereas Salty had never played in this division. So he doesn't have the background knowledge on guys like Alex does, but Salty has a very good preparation as far as watching video," McCann said. "I have a little bit different preparation style. I like to look at scouting reports on paper and then go figure out my game plan from there and then watch video and see how they match up.

"For example, a report may say that he hammers fastballs, and then you go watch the video and for the last two weeks he hasn't caught up to a fastball in. I'm going to go off those last two weeks, regardless of if the numbers are saying he hits fastballs. Yeah, if you leave it out over the plate, he may crush it. But if that ball's in, he's not getting it."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.