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OC Register: Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy lauded for handling pitchers

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Clearly Jonathan Lucroy’s 2018 season is not to be measured by his disappointing .241 batting average or his four homers.

If there’s any doubt, ask the man who managed him last year.

“He played a big role for us,” Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin said, “and I hope he doesn’t for the Angels.”

Despite Lucroy’s offensive performance, which was far below the standard he’d set throughout his career, Melvin placed a high value on what Lucroy did to help the pitching staff for a 97-win team.

“We would have loved to have him back,” Melvin lamented. “It didn’t work out.”

The Angels are banking on Oakland’s loss being their gain.

After trading Martín Maldonado last July, the Angels allowed two inexperienced catchers to finish the 2018 season. Looking for more in 2019, in December the Angels signed Lucroy to a one-year, $3.35-million deal.

They did so, however, only after communicating to him their ideas for making him better.

Lucroy talked to General Manager Billy Eppler and coaches Josh Paul and José Molina – both former big league catchers – about ways that Lucroy could improve defensively. Hitting coach Jeremy Reed, who was Lucroy’s former teammate with the Milwaukee Brewers, also talked to him about ways he could improve at the plate.

“They were kind of picking my brain if I’d be willing to make adjustments here,” Lucroy recalled. “They were trying to see how coachable I was. That was a big turn-on for me. They said ‘We can make you better but you have to buy in. We have some things we see about your game you can improve on, but are you willing to make those adjustments, to listen?’

“When you go through two really hard years of a lot of failure like I have, on a personal basis, after being so good for so long earlier in my career, you become really coachable really quick.”

Lucroy, 32, was trying to return to his form from just a couple years earlier, when he was one of the best catchers in the majors.

In 2016, Lucroy hit .292 with 24 home runs and an .855 OPS. He made his second All-Star game in three years. That summer he had been one of the prizes of the trade market, when the Milwaukee Brewers dealt him to the Texas Rangers, who he helped to the playoffs.

Over the next two seasons, though, Lucroy’s offensive numbers went into decline.

Now, he says that he had some timing issues with his swing, and also some problems with his bat path. He said they were small issues that “snowballed.”

“You go from one year being one of the top guys and the next year you hit a wall and it’s like What happened?” he said. “I tried a lot of little things that haven’t worked that well.”

While Lucroy was somewhat lost offensively, he could at least take solace in the work he was doing behind the plate. He helped guide his pitchers into the playoffs three years in a row, with three different teams: the Rangers in 2016, the Colorado Rockies in 2017 and the A’s in 2018.

Lucroy freely admits that he wants to be a well-rounded catcher, and that means hitting, but he also believes that his primary job is to get to know the pitchers well enough that he can milk every ounce out of their talent.

“How well the pitchers do, I take as a direct reflection on myself,” Lucroy said. “It may not be entirely accurate, but that’s the pride I take in working with the guys. … When a pitcher is struggling and goes out and does really well, that, for me, is an awesome feeling. That’s something I take a lot of pride in.”

Trevor Cahill, who worked with Lucroy last year in Oakland and has rejoined him with the Angels, said Lucroy “helped the younger guys get comfortable.”

Veteran Matt Harvey, who is getting his first opportunity to work with Lucroy this spring, seems to have hit it off with him already.

“It’s awesome,” Harvey said. “He gets into it. I think he’s going to help the staff tremendously. He brings a lot of energy. He’s got a lot of knowledge. He’s been in the game for a long time. Having him back there is nice.”

Lucroy said the job goes beyond simply knowing which fingers to put down and how to give a pep talk on the mound. He spends as much time as possible off the field, and even away from the ballpark, talking to the pitchers to get to know them. From the plane to restaurants on the road, Lucroy spends his time learning what makes them tick.

“Communication to me is one of the biggest things you need to have, not only with the pitchers but with everyone else,” Lucroy said. “You need to be able to talk to them and learn their personalities and that’s all a part of getting the most out of them. You have to know what kind of people they are, what they believe in, what they like to do. I want to get to know them as best as I possibly can.”

None of that surprises Melvin, whose admiration for Lucroy is accompanied by the frustration of knowing he will see him so often in another uniform this year.

“He’s as into it as any catcher you’re going to have,” Melvin said. “He knows his first job is to be an extension of the pitcher. He takes that very seriously. … I would rather have him out of the division.”

“When you go through two really hard years of a lot of failure like I have, on a personal basis, after being so good for so long earlier in my career, you become really coachable really quick,” Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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On 3/12/2019 at 11:15 AM, Make Angels Great Again said:

Hopefully between Lucroy, Allen, Harvey, Cahill, and Bour, at least one or two of those guys can recapture their all-star performance.

I'm feeling good about Harvey and Allen...Cahill seems like he could go either way. Not optimistic on Bour or LaStella, nor Lucroy really, though I think he'll wind up being acceptable.

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Lucroy could prove to be a Bob Boone type acquisition.    Not a great bat of course, but excellent work behind the plate and with the pitchers

Boone was a solid post-season hitter (.740 post-season OPS vs .661 regular season OPS).  

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