Phillies Notebook: Confusing home-plate ruling in Phillies' vs. Marlins

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tony Gwynn Jr. is tagged out at the plate by Jeff Mathis on controversial play in the sixth inning.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tony Gwynn Jr. is tagged out at the plate by Jeff Mathis on controversial play in the sixth inning.
Posted: April 15, 2014

IT TOOK only 54 seconds for umpires to confirm what they ruled they had seen in the fourth inning. It is going to take a lot longer for the Phillies to understand.

"I think nobody really knows what the rule is, honestly," Tony Gwynn Jr. said.

The situation: sixth inning, tie game, Gwynn on first base. Chase Utley lines a double to leftfield, where Marlins rookie Christian Yelich juggles the ball as he fields it off the ground. Phillies third-base coach Pete Mackanin waves Gwynn around third. Yelich relays to shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who wheels toward the plate. Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis sets up to the mound side of home, but extends his left leg in front of the plate. Hechavarria throws home.

Let's stop right there.

According to official baseball rule 7.13, "unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score." From the perspective of Gwynn and manager Ryne Sandberg, that's exactly what Mathis did. Gwynn did as he said he was taught, sliding into the leg blocking home, but plate umpire Mark Ripperger ruled him out as Mathis applied the tag. After reviewing the play on video, he upheld the ruling.

"The way that it was explained to me was that because I didn't start my slide yet before he got the ball, he's allowed to block the plate," Gwynn said. "That's not how it was explained at spring training. So I think there's going to be a lot of that going on until there is an interpretation of what that rule is."

Sandberg: "I thought the catcher did not give the baserunner a lane. He didn't give him a view of home plate. I saw the replay and I still say the leg was blocking it so Gywnn did not see home plate coming in, he didn't have a lane to the plate."

Now, there is a provision in the rule that allows a catcher to obstruct the runner's path to the plate if "the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking" it. But Mathis was set up to the right of the plate.

Obviously, a lot of this depends on one's interpretation of the words "block" (must the obstruction be total?), and "pathway." It also depends on whether one believes in enforcing the spirit or the letter of a law. An objective party would probably agree with the spirit of Ripperger's ruling: the only way for Gwynn to have been safe would have been to deviate from his pathway, run over the catcher and knock loose the ball. The throw beat him, the tag was applied, and nobody got hurt.

Of course, none of that makes the whole thing any less confusing to those involved.

Burnett update

Two days after leaving a start against the Marlins with groin soreness, righthander A.J. Burnett climbed back onto a mound, this one in the bullpen at Citizens Bank Park. After still feeling some tightness during a light session, Burnett said that he will undergo an ultra sound on the region today, after which a decision likely will be made on his status for his scheduled start on Wednesday.

The Phillies appear to be preparing for Burnett to miss the start. Yesterday, righthander David Buchanan was pulled after just one inning at Triple A Lehigh Valley. Buchanan, who allowed two runs with four walks and eight strikeouts in 11 innings in his first two starts, is the presumptive replacement for Burnett, who said he wants to be confident in his health before he takes the mound.

"I feel good, but I want my mind to be 100 percent," Burnett said. . "Let's just hope it's not a hernia or something. That's what I'm worried about. [The ultra sound] will give me peace of mind. But as far as physically, today was a good day. A lot better."

Burnett has walked six batters in each of his last two starts. On the season, he has 14 walks and 10 strikeouts. He escaped his outing on Friday night having allowed just two runs in 4 1/3 innings despite allowing 11 base runners.

DeFratus demoted

Righthander Justin De Fratus was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley before the game as the Phillies continued to shake up their beleaguered bullpen. The 26-year-old reliever was replaced on the roster by righthander Luis Garcia, who had seven strikeouts and two walks in 4 2/3 hitless innings of relief for the IronPigs.

De Fratus made 58 appearances for the Phillies last season but struggled in four appearances this year, allowing four runs in five innings, with two home runs, one walk and two strikeouts. His fastball did not appear to have the same life as it did in 2013, when he posted a 3.86 ERA with 8.1 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 and 0.6 HR/9. According to PitchFX data, his average fastball velocity dropped from 93.3 mph last season to 90.7 this year.

Garcia, whom the Phillies plucked out of the independent Atlantic League last season, appeared in 24 games in 2013 for the Phillies. Command was his issue: in 31 2/3 innings, he walked 23 to go with 23 strikeouts, an average of 6.6 of each per nine innings.

On Saturday, the Phillies outrighted righthander Brad Lincoln to Triple A to make room on the roster for starter Jonathan Pettibone. The Phillies' bullpen entered yesterday ranked second-to-last in the National League with a 4.71 ERA.

Gwynn time

Yesterday was the third straight game that featured Tony Gwynn Jr. starting in centerfield. Ben Revere has battled some soreness in his ribs, but manager Ryne Sandberg said after the game that he likes what he has seen out of Gwynn thus far, both offensively and defensively.

Asked if he planned to stick with Gwynn in centerfield, Sandberg said, "He's doing a nice job. I like what he's doing right now."

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy


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