Thursday, May 26, 2022

Pirates forced to use utility man Josh VanMeter behind the plate in rare MLB emergency catcher situation

For the first time in several years, MLB had an honest to goodness emergency catcher situation Saturday when Pittsburgh Pirates utility man Josh VanMeter found himself behind the plate during the team’s loss to the Cincinnati Reds (CIN 9, PIT 2). It was his first game at catcher since high school, according to MLB.com’s Justice delos Santos.

“Pure panic,” VanMeter told delos Santos about having to catch. “… It happened really fast. Pitchers did a really good job working with me. Didn’t bounce too many balls, which made it easy.”

VanMeter was forced to don the tools of ignorance because of an ejection and an injury. First backup catcher Andrew Knapp was ejected for arguing a check swing while in the dugout. A few innings later starter Roberto Pérez had to be helped off the field with what the Pirates called “left hamstring discomfort.” The injury appeared more serious than “discomfort.”

So with Knapp ejected and Pérez injured, VanMeter was forced to take over behind the plate in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game. The game got away from the Pirates that inning and Cincinnati scored seven runs to blow things open. VanMeter caught 50 pitches in his one inning and also took a foul tip to the face mask, though he shook it off and remained in the game.

“When I went up to hit, I told him just to take it to arbitration, so he could get paid a little more,” Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson, who played with VanMeter in Cincinnati’s farm system, told The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans after the game. “When he came up his last at-bat, he was like, ‘Man, my legs are already hurting.’ It was funny.”

Utility man Andrew Romine caught one inning in 2017 when he became the fifth player to play all nine positions in a single game. Eduardo Escobar (one inning in 2017), Jake Elmore (4 1/3 innings in 2013), and Don Kelly (six innings in 2011) each found themselves in a game at catcher, though in all three instances their team was exposing them to a new position.

The last true emergency catcher was Pedro Feliz with the Giants in 2007. Starting catcher Bengie Molina was removed from the game as part of a double switch, then backup Eliezer Alfonzo exited with an injury. Kevin Frandsen, the team’s emergency catcher, was used as a pinch-hitter earlier in the game, so Feliz went behind the plate.

VanMeter caught in the first game of a doubleheader. The Pirates placed Pérez on the injured list after the game and called up Michael Perez, an actual catcher, from Triple-A to take his roster spot. Knapp and (Michael) Perez will handle catching duties moving forward.

Saturday’s win snapped a nine-game losing streak was only the fourth win of the season for the Reds. They are 4-22. The Pirates are 10-15.

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