ATLANTA – Don’t expect to see Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson drop into a crouch and signal signs this season.
The Reds are committed to using PitchCom at the beginning of the season, an anti-sign-stealing technology where the catcher will signal pitches to the pitcher through buttons on a wristband. The pitcher and three fielders will wear receivers in their cap that will announce the pitch and location.
Major League Baseball approved the technology this week and Reds pitchers and catchers were unanimously in favor of it after experimenting with it in spring training. There are nine buttons on the wrist band and the pitcher will hear the pitch – “fastball,” “curveball,” “slider,” etc. – and a location “up-and-away,” “down-and-in,” “middle-middle.” The voice, like Siri in their ear, can be voiced in English and Spanish.
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“Going into this, every one of our pitchers and catchers are going to use it,” Reds Manager David Bell said. “They loved it. I was shocked.”
One big reason players love it is how much it increases the pace of play. The catcher will signal the next pitch after he throws the previous pitch back to the mound. It’s a quick process if the pitcher wants to shake the catcher off to a different pitch, and the pitcher knows what pitch he will throw before he steps onto the pitching rubber.
Players don’t feel the small receivers in their caps, though they look a little bulky.
“Catchers and pitchers are not always on the same page sometimes,” Reds reliever Ryan Hendrix said. “Things can get confusing to where we’re thinking about the pitch and we’re like, ‘ahh,’ and we’re having to second-guess ourselves. Now before we even get on the mound, now I want this and get on the rubber. It’s quick. It’s super convenient.”
Said catcher Aramis Garcia: “It’s laid out really easy. I just feel like with runners on second base too, even when guys shake you off, it’s just so easy to put down another sign. When you’re putting down multiple signs and then they shake, it can really slow the game down. When you just have it as a button, I feel like they’ve really enjoyed it.”
The Reds anticipate their shortstop, second baseman and center fielder will wear the transmitter in the field, along with the pitcher, so they’ll always be aware of the upcoming pitch selection. Garcia said the Reds will still have to keep their guard up to make sure they aren’t falling into obvious tendencies, but keeping a good tempo is important.
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The dugout is not permitted to have access to the PitchCom system, so any signs they want to relay will come through the catcher. They’ll also use buttons on the wristband to communicate how they want to combat opposing teams on the bases.
“It’s just a matter of programming all of it from not only the pitches, but the running game,” Bell said. “You can’t do something different if you’re going to pick off to first. That all has to be on the thing.”
For a sport that relies so much on tradition, it’s surprised a lot of players with how much they’ve enjoyed using it.
“I did not like the idea of it, and I try to think I’m open to new things,” Bell said. “I didn’t think that was a good idea at all. I already could see how it’s really going to help the game. Really, not only the pace of play, but just having everyone work together, there was good interaction amongst the team with helping the defenders work together.”
Reds lefty Mike Minor, who began the season on the 10-day Injured List, will throw a simulated game Friday in Atlanta. He threw two live batting practice sessions in Goodyear and is targeting a mid-April return.
Luis Castillo is scheduled to throw a bullpen session this weekend and could return by the end of April if he progresses well.
Infielder Donovan Solano, sidelined because of a hamstring strain, will take at-bats against Minor in the simulated game and could return quickly once his required IL stint is over.
Tommy Pham, who is guaranteed $7.5 million in his one-year contract with a mutual option for 2023, could earn an additional $1 million if he reaches 600 plate appearances this year.
Pham will receive $100,000 when he reaches 300 plate appearances, 350, 400 and 450. The bonus increases to $200,000 once he hits 500 plate appearances, 550 and 600.
It’s a $6 million mutual option for Pham in 2023, which matches his base salary from this year, with a $1.5 million buyout.
Reds reliever Hunter Strickland, who signed a one-year, $1.825 million contract, could earn an additional $750,000, especially if he becomes the club’s closer. Strickland will receive a $100,000 bonus if he finishes 20 games, then again at 25, 30, 35 and 40. He will be paid $50,000 if he makes 45 relief appearances, then again at 50, 55, 60 and 65.
Strickland will be paid $250,000 if he’s traded through an assignment bonus.
The Reds will play a home game at 11:30 a.m. against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, May 29, as a part of Peacock’s new broadcasting deal.
Peacock, which is NBC Sports, will exclusively broadcast the Reds’ game on May 29 through its streaming service.