LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was afraid Major League Baseball was going to ban collisions at home plate with its new rule, turning it into just another base. He was also worried he'd have to adjust his first Spring Training camp to allot time to teach a new approach to his catchers. Neither of those trepidations were realized with Monday's announcement of a new experimental rule designed to eliminate unnecessary collisions at home.
"For catchers, it's pretty easy," Ausmus said Tuesday morning. "You've got to show the runner the plate, a portion of the plate, and you can't block the plate unless you have the ball in hand. It's pretty clear cut for the catcher."
Alex Avila wasn't too thrilled about the possibility of no contact at the plate, either. He sounded satisfied with the new rule in place on an experimental basis.
"I like this rule," Avila said, "because there still is importance at the plate, because it is a run. There still is the version of doing anything you can to score. The catcher can still do anything to prevent him. But it'll take out those unnecessary collisions to where there really isn't a need to try to jog the ball loose or anything like that."
If a runner strays from a direct path toward home plate to instead initiate contact with the defender covering home, the umpire can now call him out. If the runner strays from the direct path but then tries to slide into the plate, hitting the ground with his body before hitting the catcher, he's fine.
If the catcher doesn't have the ball, he can't block the plate. But if the catcher blocks the runner's path because it was the only way he could catch the throw home, then he's fine.
"I think it may cut down on some collisions, but there will still be collisions," Avila said. "I [like] the way they have it -- basically, the runner can't go from his path to the plate to hit the catcher, and the catcher can't block the plate without the ball. But the majority of the plays are going to be when the catcher catches the ball and he goes in to block the plate, then the runner will have the option to slide or he can still hit him. There's nothing really changing in that aspect."
The bigger part of the rule change arguably is educational, because clubs will now be required to teach runners to slide at home and catchers to allow the runner a path to the plate -- at every level of their organization. But Ausmus thinks many young catchers already know that.
"Really, I kind of did it," he said. "Most catchers do show the runner a portion of the plate. There's very few Mike Scioscias in the game nowadays. The money's gotten too big and the injury risk is too high."