For Jays' Arencibia, defence comes first

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

J.P. Arencibia has already mastered the science of making the grand entrance.

First impressions have become his specialty. They’re all good.

Now all he has to work out is how to make the major leagues his permanent residence.

That means figuring out a lot of little things, from where to spend a rare off day like yesterday, to who’s got the best eats in town and how to sneak an extra strike in there for one of his pitchers.

The hitting?

That, he says, is no big deal.

Which is kind of curious because it is his bat that has gotten him early public notice.

Called up last season to replace the injured John Buck, he became only the fourth major-league player to hit two homers in his first game; including a first-pitch jolt off Tampa hurler James Shields.

In this, his rookie season, he celebrated Friday’s opening day with two more homers, a triple and five RBIs.

All very nice, says Arencibia, but it is not now, nor will it ever be, his primary focus as a catcher.

“Your job as a catcher is to get that pitcher through the game and give the team an opportunity to win every day. That’s my job! As a catcher, the No. 1 responsibility is to help that pitcher put zeroes up on the board.”

As such, he spent much of spring training working with bench coach and former catcher Don Wakamatsu to play more relaxed.

That, according to manager John Farrell, has also made him more aware of pitch selection and reading opposing hitters.

“There’s little things in the game that people who don’t understand (the nuance) of the game don’t see. But they’re very big parts of the game,” said Arencibia, “like knowing from situation to situation which pitch to call. Blocking that pitch maybe so a runner doesn’t get to second to keep the double play in order.

“When you’re relaxed your hands are stronger ... softer ... you’re able to receive the ball better.”

So, Sunday against the Twins he blocked a ball in the dirt.

As it skittered towards third base, Arencibia pounced on it, throwing out Michael Cuddyer trying to advance to second. It averted a potentially dangerous inning in a close game.

Not as dramatic perhaps as a ball crushed into the seats, but saving a run is equally as important as scoring one.

“Last year I was making strides (defensively). This year I made progress mentally being able to relax and letting the ball come to me. We (Wakamatsu) didn’t talk mechanics a lot.

“We talked anticipation, relaxation, letting your body work. The big thing with him is breathing and relaxation. It’s about letting your abilities take over rather than trying to force yourself to do too much.”

Wakamatsu has been working with Arencibia on receiving low pitches. Last season there was a tendency to reach out at the ball when he was catching, instead of letting it come to him.

As a result, he was catching the ball further out in front of his body and balls with late movement occasionally bounced off his glove.

It also gave the illusion of pitches being out of the strike zone.

“It’s those little things that make a big difference in the game; that strike I can get for that pitcher; just giving a pitcher the confidence to throw different pitches,” said Arencibia.

So, there wasn’t a serious concern about his swing after struggling through the spring with a wimpy .161 batting average.

His swing has never been an issue — tying Alex Rodriguez’s home run record at Westminster Christian High School in Miami, hitting .330 during a three-year career at the University of Tennessee and last season, batting .301 with 32 homers at Triple A.

“What happens as a hitter, that comes secondary,” said Arencibia.

“I had a good day at the plate (opening day) but it’s baseball and you’re going to fail (as a hitter) more often than not.

“You can’t let what happens at the plate affect your catching because ultimately (defence) is the most important part of my job.”


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