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05/14/09 2:33 PM ET
You can't put one past Salty these days
Catcher blocks four pitches in dirt in extras on Wednesday
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Hank Blalock had the big hit that allowed the Rangers to beat the Mariners, 6-5, in 11 innings on Wednesday night, reliever C.J. Wilson picked up the win in relief and shortstop Elvis Andrus had another outstanding play defensively. Not forgotten in the Rangers' clubhouse was the work of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in blocking pitches in the dirt, especially with Wilson on the mound in extra innings. Saltalamacchia, in the 10th inning with the go-ahead run on third base, twice blocked wicked pitches in the dirt that kept the Mariners from taking the lead. "That was quite a show," Rangers dugout coach Jackie Moore said. "Very impressive," general manager Jon Daniels said. "He did excellent," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He deserves a lot of credit for saving that game for us." Saltalamacchia blocked two more pitches in the dirt in the 11th inning. Although the Mariners did eventually score in that inning, the Rangers ended up rallying in the bottom of the 11th to win the game. "It's something that every player takes pride in," Saltalamacchia said. "If you're not hitting the ball, you've got to do something to help your team win. C.J. is probably the toughest guy to catch because he throws so hard and his stuff moves so much, but I wasn't going to lose that game with a passed ball." Wednesday night was the most demonstrative example of Saltalamacchia's improvement in blocking pitches. Another is that because of the work of Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden, Rangers pitchers went into Thursday's game having allowed the fifth fewest wild pitches in the American League. They had also not allowed a passed ball. Saltalamacchia, who did not start Thursday afternoon, has taken to heart what Washington told him last year: "I don't want to see you running back to the screen chasing after balls." Farm director Scott Servais -- a former Major League catcher -- has been there for much of the work with Saltalamacchia on blocking balls. They started in the offseason, made it a priority in Spring Training and have continued since the season started. Servais, despite his many other duties, hooks up with the big league club every three weeks or so to continue working with Saltalamacchia. Basically Servais changed Saltalamacchia's footwork. Instead of just dropping to his knees to block balls, Saltalamacchia kicks his feet back, allowing for more mobility and more time to block pitches. "The thing is, he's bought into it," Servais said. "He's very coachable. It's been fun for me. A lot of people didn't think he could catch on an everyday basis but he and Taylor have gotten a lot better in different areas." Saltalamacchia and Teagarden work on blocking balls every day. Thirty minutes before every game, they go through a series of drills with bullpen catcher Josh Frasier to get them ready for the game and stay fundamentally sound in the defensive art of catching. "Saltalamacchia worked hard this spring and it's showing up," Washington said. "He has been blocking balls like that all year. If a ball gets by him, it's really a bad [pitch] because he hasn't let many by him. But [Wednesday night] was the best I've ever seen. Those were tough chances, there wasn't an easy chance among them."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.