Erik Kratz was disappointed when he saw the lineup for Monday’s game posted near the clubhouse door and his name wasn’t on it.
Then again, Kratz says he’s always disappointed when his name isn’t on the lineup card. A player's career is short, the Phils catcher says, and he’s not interested in wasting his on the bench.
But with Roy Halladay scheduled to pitch against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park, manager Charlie Manuel decided to use catcher Humberto Quintero instead of Kratz. That may be because Halladay alluded to communication problems with Kratz in his first outing of the season last Wednesday in Atlanta. Though Halladay had nine strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings, he gave up five runs on six hits and three walks and was gone after throwing 95 pitches.
One of those pitches was a home run hit by Justin Upton that Halladay was particularly chafed about, saying he wasn’t committed to throwing the pitch. However, at no point did Halladay approach Kratz or Manuel to ask that he work specifically with Quintero until Carlos Ruiz returns from his 25-game suspension.
Manuel just decided to go with Quintero against the Mets on Monday night.
“I don’t know if they had issues,” Manuel explained. “Doesn’t mean that he didn’t shake him off, stuff like that. The issue part, I don’t know about. I think sometimes there will be times when the pitcher don’t like what the catcher is putting down at times or whatever. But he can always shake him off.”
Kratz said he thought Halladay seemed to run into some bad luck in his first start of the year, but the pitcher never voiced displeasure to him about his work.
“The last time out his stuff was good. He just wasn’t able to get ahead,” Kratz said. “He got hurt on one pitch he left up to [Justin Upton]. But other than that it was just pitches, it wasn’t his stuff. They were battling and he wasn’t able to relax. He was able to get a lot of strikeouts, but he wasn’t able to get in good counts. But that’s something that’s easy to take care of.”
One way to take care of it is to go with Quintero, who did not catch Halladay during spring training. Halladay is known to have a particularly close relationship with suspended catcher Carlos Ruiz, but it is notable that Halladay’s statistics last season were much better while working Kratz over Ruiz.
In 17 games with Ruiz, Halladay had a 5.42 ERA with 7.89 strikeouts per nine innings. With Kratz, Halladay posted a 3.00 ERA with 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings in seven games.
Those numbers don’t matter now, though, says Kratz. The Phillies’ pitching -- especially the bullpen -- has struggled in the first six game of the season. Kratz says the poor performance by the pitching staff reflects poorly on him.
“There’s one thing that’s consistent out there and it’s me,” Kratz said. “I have to look at myself and look at how we’re doing back there and if I can’t help the team improve, then put [Quintero] back there. And I have to do a better job.”
As far as the communication problems, Manuel says he doesn’t see any issues with Kratz, per se.
“I think it’s been OK. I think that Kratzy, he is kind of new to our pitchers,” Manuel said. “But at the same time, you go back and check on how much he caught last year and who he caught and what he did, look and see and compare it, and basically how much he caught some of those guys. That oughta say something.”
Overall, the pitching staff had a 3.36 ERA in 41 games with Kratz behind the plate compared to a 4.11 ERA in 106 games with Ruiz. Cliff Lee averaged 18.3 strikeouts per walk with Kratz behind the plate and just 7.1 strikeouts per each walk with Ruiz back there.
Regardless, how much difference does the catcher really make? The pitcher throws the pitch and if he doesn’t want to throw a pitch a catcher calls for, he can shake it off. Isn’t it all up to the pitcher to make pitches?
Well, yes and no.
“I think there is a backbone of the team and when you’re not hitting it’s all nine guys. Pitching-wise, the catcher has to get everybody back into the zone,” Kratz explained. “The catcher has to get everybody throwing strikes and through the times when you’re struggling. Anybody can sit back there when a guy is dotting up -- you could put a cardboard cutout back there. Right now, I’m not doing it and so that could be why I’m not in there.”
Kratz says the catcher is like a coach on the field.
“[A catcher has to] lead [the pitcher] to that spot. It’s an extension of the coaches out there,” Kratz said. “The catcher is an extra coach that gets to be out there. He gets the team’s energy up and he gets the pitcher to throw the best pitches he can throw and when that’s not happening, you have to figure it out.”
The problem will work itself out. Kratz will be back in the lineup on Tuesday night, Manuel said. But when Ruiz is finished with his suspension -- 19 games remain entering Monday -- he is going to do almost all of the catching.