Daily Distractions: MLB clarifies its ‘transfer rule,’ but 7.13 is still baffling to Dodgers catcher.

Major League Baseball gave its players roughly one month to adjust to a new, literal interpretation of its “transfer rule.” Catch the ball, transfer the ball from glove to hand, make sure each of these steps is deliberate enough to be discerned on video review, and you’re good. That sounds simple. In practice, the rule demanded that fielders break a lifetime’s worth of hard-worn habits. Hanley Ramirez got burned on the call once this season, when he lost his grip on the ball after recording what looked like a forceout at second base. The umpire on scene ruled Ramirez didn’t make a catch in the first place.

Friday morning, the league officially changed its mind.

Beginning tonight, MLB announced that umpires will enforce the transfer rule according to a new standard — that is, the old standard. According to a league release, a catch or valid forceout/tag has occurred:

…if the fielder had complete control over the ball in his glove, but drops the ball after intentionally opening his glove to make the transfer to his throwing hand. There is no requirement that the fielder successfully remove the ball from his glove in order for it to be ruled a catch. If the fielder drops the ball while attempting to remove it to make a throw, the Umpires should rule that the ball had been caught, provided that the fielder had secured it in his glove before attempting the transfer. The Umpires will continue to use their judgment as to whether the fielder had complete control over the ball before the transfer.

It was too late for Ramirez, but it was nice to see the league act quickly. That said, there’s still at least one rule that the Dodgers would like to see clarified. Ramirez was involved in this one, too.

From my game story last night, in case you missed it, here’s what happened:

With Hanley Ramirez on third base and (Adrian) Gonzalez on first, (Yasiel) Puig hit a ground ball to Phillies third baseman Cody Asche. Asche fielded the ball deep in the third-base hole and threw to home plate, where Ramirez was out by several feet.

Or was he?

Mattingly popped out of the third-base dugout, asking for help. He demonstrated to the home-plate umpire, Mike DiMuro, what he saw from Philadelphia’s Ruiz: A catcher with both feet planted in front of home plate as Ramirez was bearing down.

According to the rule, which was ratified by MLB and the Players’ Association in spring training, “Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.”

The problem for Mattingly was that Asche delivered a perfect strike to Ruiz in plenty of time to retire Ramirez. Hunter Wendelstedt initiated a crew chief’s review and baseball’s two new rules for 2014 suddenly collided, an instant replay being used to determine whether a catcher illegally blocked home plate.

Three minutes and 18 seconds later, the call stood. Ramirez was out.

Just before the next inning, I saw Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz in the dugout demonstrating how to block home plate to pitcher Josh Beckett. After the game, Federowicz was still upset and confused by the sequence of events.

“I honestly thought that call was going to be overturned,” he said. “The only thing in their favor is that (Ruiz) got that ball in plenty of time. He probably got it a good 10 feet before the play. That’s what the final decision was probably on. My whole thing is, why have the rule saying you can’t block the plate without the ball, and he blocks the plate without the ball?”

Here’s a still image, taken from the video of the play, that shows where Ruiz was stationed when he caught the ball (unfortunately I couldn’t grab an image just before Ruiz made the catch):

Hanley  Ramirez

Whether Ruiz is illegally blocking Ramirez’s path to home plate represents a judgment call, too. Could Ruiz be more out of the way of the baseline? Of course. But, as noted at the time, Asche made an accurate throw. If Ruiz plants his mitt in the baseline and his body in foul territory to receive the throw, and Ramirez (who left on contact) sprints home at full speed and slides inside the baseline, Ruiz is in jeopardy of not being able to make the tag.

Maybe Wendelstedt factored this into his judgment. Rule 7.13 goes on to state that “it shall not be considered a violation of this rule if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the Umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner.”

Watching the sequence in real time, Federowicz felt that Ruiz didn’t need to lay his right leg in the basepath in order to make the catch. Therefore, Ramirez should have been ruled safe.

“Hanley has nowhere to slide and he’s still out? I guess Hanley’s allowed to hit him in that situation,” Federowicz said. “But again, they scare all these runners from being able to do that. Nobody really knows the correct rule right now.”

Some bullet points for Arbor Day:
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Daily Distractions: Accentuating the positive, and tracking down some former Dodgers.

In my game story last night, I highlighted what ailed the Dodgers in their 5-3 loss to the Giants. (Photo gallery)

To be fair, here’s what the Dodgers did well in their first series of the season:

- Limited the Giants to a .208 batting average;
- Walked only two batters in the three games, while striking out 19;
- Didn’t allow a stolen base, while catching the Giants’ lone attempted thief;
- Turned a league-high seven double plays;
- In lieu of traditional offensive means, they got in the way of three San Francisco pitches.

OK, maybe the last one’s a stretch.

The positives paint a clear picture: the Dodgers pitchers were doing their jobs for the most part and, when they weren’t, the defense was helping out (Skip Schumaker‘s error last night serving as the obvious exception).

Here are some bullet points for an off-day for the Dodgers, except for Chad Billingsley, who will make his debut tonight in Rancho Cucamonga:

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Dodgers release Mark Lowe, bringing camp roster to 38.

Mark LoweThe Dodgers opened camp with three experienced right-handed relievers vying to make the team as non-roster invitees: Kevin Gregg, Peter Moylan and Mark Lowe.

They couldn’t all make the team. None still might, though the Dodgers have eventually given a roster spot to a non-roster camp invitee the last 11 years.

It won’t be Lowe, who was granted his release Sunday morning. Continue reading

Daily Distractions: WBC upsets, Dodgers draw scouts, SABR.

Adrian GonzalezDon Mattingly has openly joked about getting Nick Punto back in camp next week. He didn’t think Team Italy had a long future in the World Baseball Classic. He wasn’t alone.

On a day off for Hanley Ramirez and Ronald Belisario, the other three Dodgers in the WBC — Luis Cruz, Adrian Gonzalez and Punto — were busy pulling off upsets. Italy beat Canada, 14-4, and Mexico stunned the United States 5-2.

Punto went 2 for 4 with a double and scored twice. Gonzalez homered and drove in three runs and Cruz put Mexico up 5-1 with a sacrifice fly off Glen Perkins in the fifth inning. As Ice Cube once said, “it was a good day.”

Unless you’re the U.S., that is. The Americans play the Italians today and momentum is not in their direction. Italy beat Mexico on Thursday and can eliminate the U.S. from advancing to the semifinals with a win.

Some more links for a Saturday:

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Dodgers 7, Cubs 6: Postgame thoughts.

Monday’s game, the third of spring training for the Dodgers, began at 1:06 p.m. The Dodgers’ second batter stepped into the batter’s box 18 minutes later.

That’s because the Dodgers’ first batter, Dee Gordon, led off the bottom of the first inning with a 17-pitch at-bat against Chicago Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva. (Gordon struck out looking.) In the top of the first, Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley allowed hits to the first four batters he faced and surrendered two runs. It had the makings of a long game from the outset and it was: Three hours, 25 minutes total.

The afternoon was probably more memorable if Vin Scully was narrating it — which he was, if you had a radio Monday.

Some less colorful takeaways:

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Experience counts in the Dodgers’ bullpen, but how much is needed?

Kevin Gregg

Kevin Gregg is trying to make the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee to spring training. (AP)

A year ago, the Dodgers’ bullpen lacked experience. Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen, the primary ninth and eighth-inning pitchers, had little more than two years’ service time between them. Josh Lindblom and Scott Elbert had only become full-time major league pitchers the year before.

So the Dodgers kept Todd Coffey and Mike MacDougal on their Opening Day roster despite brutal springs and signed Jamey Wright, a 37-year-old non-roster invitee. (Wright worked out, MacDougal didn’t, and Coffey had season-ending elbow surgery in July.)

This year, it seems like the need for veteran help is not as great. Jansen and Guerra are a year older and the closer, Brandon League, made his major-league debut in 2004. So did Matt GuerrierJ.P. Howell debuted in 2005. Ronald Belisario turned 30 in December. They may be joined by graybeards Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and/or Aaron Harang.

So what’s the need for a non-roster veteran like 34-year-old Kevin Gregg or Peter Moylan, who turns 28 in April?

“We’re still fairly young out there,” manager Don Mattingly said, “so it’s nice to have leadership out there in the ‘pen, guys who have been out there for a season and played on some championship-type teams. I’m not opposed to having experience out there for those guys. Brandon’s fairly young still at the closer role. Obviously the guys setting him up … are younger. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of experience out there.”

Still, it seems like experience alone won’t get Gregg and Moylan onto the Opening Day roster — both will need a strong spring training.

Some odds and ends from Dodgers spring training.

Some odds and ends from Thursday at Camelback Ranch, the final day before the Dodgers’ position players are expected to report to spring training.
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Dodgers sign Kevin Gregg to minor-league contract.

The Dodgers signed right-handed reliever Kevin Gregg to a minor league contract with an invitation to major-league camp Sunday. Gregg, 34, is 28-38 in 10 major-league seasons for the Angels, Marlins, Cubs, Blue Jays, Orioles.

A total of 19 players have been extended non-roster invitations.

Along with Peter Moylan and Mark Lowe, Gregg is one of three NRIs in camp with at least 250 games of major-league experience. Gregg has 509, almost entirely out of the bullpen. The right-hander was 3-2 with a 4.95 ERA in 40 games for Baltimore last season.

Click here for a complete breakdown of the relief pitchers in Dodgers camp.