Disappointed Kratz out of lineup for Halladay's latest start

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Disappointed Kratz out of lineup for Halladay's latest start

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.

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts had dinner with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in Arizona around the start of spring training.

If Epstein had any doubt about a contract extension, it ended right there. And on Wednesday, it became official.

Chicago announced a five-year extension, rewarding Epstein for an overhaul that has the long-suffering franchise eyeing its first championship since 1908.

"He started it off by saying some really nice things about me that might have hurt his leverage a little bit, and then I returned the favor by telling him that even if we couldn't work out a contract it would get awkward because I would just keep showing up to work," Epstein said. "As an employee, I will. I kept ruining my leverage."

The deal comes with the Cubs wrapping up one of the greatest seasons in franchise history and their fans believing this just might be the team to end the 108-year World Series title drought.

Chicago reached 100 wins for the first time since 1935 and was a major league-leading 101-56 heading into Wednesday's game at Pittsburgh. The Cubs clinched the best record in the majors with more than a week left in the regular season.

"In the five years under Theo's leadership, he has brought in a strong executive team and acquired and developed some of the best players in the game," Ricketts said. "Now, the results are on the field."

Terms were not disclosed.

It looks like Epstein isn't the only Cubs executive with a new deal. He said contract extensions for general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod will probably be announced in the next day or two.

Epstein, who was in the final season of a five-year deal when he left Boston in October 2011, had repeatedly said a new contract was a formality, that there were more immediate priorities. Ricketts had echoed that and indicated in the spring that he was prepared to make him one of the highest-paid executives in baseball.

"There was never any real drama throughout the summer," said Ricketts, adding the agreement was finalized a few days ago.

What took so long?

"We sat down at spring training, had a nice dinner, talked about getting an extension done," Ricketts said. "Basically, I told him I thought he was the best in the game at what he did. He told me no matter what I paid him he wasn't going to leave Chicago, so we were off to a good start. We checked back in on it a couple times during the summer. There was no real time pressure."

The new deal is a reward for a striking transformation that began with the arrivals of Epstein along with Hoyer and McLeod -- his friends from Boston -- following the 2011 season.

The Cubs tested some fans' patience by taking the long approach rather than going for a quick fix, but they have seen the benefits the past two years. Chicago is eyeing even bigger things after breaking out with 97 wins and reaching the NL Championship Series last season.

"When you have great leadership at the top, it usually filters through the rest of the group," manager Joe Maddon said. "A successful organization has that. We have that. I was very happy to hear the news. I'm very happy for Theo and his family and of course, us. It is great. It's a feel-good story. He deserves it. He's earned it. I'm very happy for him."

High draft picks such as 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant made big impacts, as did a number of trade acquisitions, including last season's NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo and potential Gold Glove shortstop Addison Russell.

The hiring of NL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon and signing of starter Jon Lester before the 2015 season showed just how serious the Cubs were about jumping into contention. And the additions of three-time Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, pitcher John Lackey and veteran infielder Ben Zobrist along with the re-signing of outfielder Dexter Fowler this past offseason added to an already deep roster.

Throw in the emergence of Kyle Hendricks as a Cy Young candidate, and the Cubs are widely considered a postseason favorite.

There were missteps along the way, but the Cubs are in a far different and far better place than they were five years ago. And if they win it all under Epstein, it won't be the first time he helped end a long championship drought.

Before he took aim at the Billy goat curse, he took down the Bambino.

Epstein oversaw two World Series winners in nine seasons as Boston's general manager.

In Chicago, Epstein parted with high-priced veterans and loaded up the minor league system while expanding the team's scouting and analytics operation as part of an overhaul that saw the organization get stripped to its studs.

The Ricketts family also invested heavily in infrastructure in recent years, including new training facilities in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic and the spring training home in Arizona. They are also overhauling Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood.

"There really wasn't anything important to me besides finding common ground, making sure that we could stay and see this thing through," Epstein said. "Our mission has not been accomplished yet."