Neal: PitchCom gives pitchers peace of mind signs aren’t being stolen

·4 min read

La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

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PitchCom wasn't even a thought in 2008 when the Twins' Livan Hernandez faced the Rockies in an interleague game in Denver.

During those times, encrypted communication wasn't a thing. A fastball in the stomach was.

Hernandez was doing his best to keep the Twins in that May 17 game against the Rockies, but Jeff Baker broke up his no-hitter with a double to lead off the sixth, then doubled again off him in the eighth. Suddenly, Hernandez called second baseman Brendan Harris and shortstop Adam Everett to the mound for a confab, then the players returned to their positions.

Hernandez stepped on the rubber then turned toward second as if he was attempting to pick off Baker. Instead, Hernandez's throw hit Baker right in the stomach. Everyone in the stadium fell silent as the ball hit the ground. Then many of us realized the intent. Hernandez thought Baker was stealing signals from catcher Joe Mauer and tipping off his hitters, and Hernandez was responding with a warning.

Ron Gardenhire was by his pool in Fort Myers when reached on Wednesday, and the retired manager was asked what he remembered about the play.

He immediately started chuckling.

"He was one of the guys who had been around a little bit," Gardenhire said of Hernandez. "And if you irritated him, he could get fired up.

"Did he really try to hit the guy, or was he just trying a pickoff? I believed he aimed right for him."

Back in the day, that's how issues were dealt with on the field. Someone stepped out of line, he was getting buzzed. Or hit with a pickoff throw.

Sign stealing went to the next level with the Astros trash can-banging scandal of 2017. It led to Major League Baseball cracking down on exotic schemes to relay signs and the use of technology to cheat.

PitchCom is a device worn by catchers that has nine buttons. The catcher presses a button for the pitch, then another for the location. It sends an encrypted message, available in different languages, to the pitcher, who is wearing an earpiece, of what to throw. Three defensive players can wear an earpiece to help with positioning. So far, it has been received favorably. Pitchers have peace of mind that signs aren't being stolen.

"You don't have to go through the entire notebook of what you're doing," Twins righthander Bailey Ober said. "You don't have to pull out that card to change [signs] every five pitches. It's definitely something a little bit easier on the pitchers."

If Hernandez had PitchCom, he wouldn't have had to plunk Baker, although he probably achieved the same peace of mind after he did it.

Paddack deal troubling ...

The Mets were working on a deal with the Padres that included righthander Chris Paddack. One reason the Mets backed away from the trade was concern about Paddack's medical reports. Paddack had Tommy John surgery in 2016 then had an injection in the elbow in September because of a slight UCL sprain. Red flag for the Mets — but not the Twins.

Aware of the background, the Twins dealt closer Taylor Rogers and outfielder Brent Rooker for Paddack, reliever Emilo Pagan and a minor league pitcher.

Now it looks like a deal that should have never been made.

Rogers has 16 saves and a 0.49 ERA for San Diego and Paddack had another Tommy John surgery last week.

The only way this deal can work for the Twins is if Paddack, 26 and not a free agent until 2025, has time to get back on the mound. But the history of pitchers succeeding after a second elbow surgery is poor.

... so is Addison deal

If you don't believe that the name, image and likeness (NIL) deals for college athletes are running wild and making it tough for coaches to hold on to their best players, examine the case of former Pittsburgh wide receiver Jordan Addison.

Addison is leaving the Panthers for USC after a 100-catch season. Reports have surfaced that Addison is getting as much as $3.5 million in NIL deals to jump to the Trojans.

Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, according to Spotrac, is scheduled to make about that much this season.

But the unregulated NIL landscape is allowing supporters to amass war chests and convince players to change schools. And the transfer portal allows athletes instant eligibility.

It's great for college athletes to earn money off their popularity. But either the NCAA or the government needs to produce legislation to make sure schools aren't tampering with players or using NIL as a recruiting tool.

... And two predictions ...

Loons will struggle again

The goals continue to be elusive for the Loons. Now they head to Dallas on Sunday to face one of the league's best scoring defenses. Minnesota United drops this one 2-0.

Lynx will rebound

Aerial Powers has regained her shooting touch. Kayla McBride is back from Turkey. Look for the Lynx to beat New York on Tuesday and start to find a groove.