Arizona's defensive minded catcher paints his way into the lineup
Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez has said “defense wins games” time and time again.
But going into Tuesday’s game, Lopez has seen his team commit more errors (19-17) and compile a worse fielding percentage (.972) than its opponents (.974).
Junior catcher Jordan Berger has represented a defensive bright spot this season.
Going into Tuesday’s game, Berger had only two errors in nine games played and seven starts.
Carlos Herrera/The Daily Wildcat Catcher Jordan Berger (29) shakes pitcher James Farris'(36) hand after the starter threw a complete game at Hi Corbett Field on Feb. 22. Berger's defensive mindset has given him a chance to start over usual starting catcher Riley Moore.
“I just never stop working,” Berger said. “The main thing I’ve worked on is defense, and as a catcher, that’s the most important thing. … This year, I really embraced working on defense and it’s paid off a lot.”
Berger said that as a catcher, it’s crucial to get every strike for your pitcher, and that he studied film of himself to get better.
“Hitters, when they are down in the count, it’s much tougher to get base hits and puts a lot of pressure on them when we get ahead in the count,” Berger said. “I’ve really taken a big responsibility to get strikes for my guys and have put a lot of work into getting better at it.”
He said that sometimes, it just takes a slight rotation of the wrist to bring a low strike up in the zone.
“I really work on trying to extend and twist my wrist to the left in order to frame the pitch. We want to get that low strike for our guys,” Berger said. “Our pitchers are taught to throw low strikes, so [framing] is definitely something I’ve been working on.”
Over his first two years with the team, Berger started in just two games behind the plate as a freshman. In his sophomore campaign, Berger was utilized for his ability to make contact instead of catch and started six games as the designated hitter. This year, he has emerged as the defensive catcher coach Lopez covets.
“He’s not getting careless or sloppy,” Lopez said. “We don’t have an overpowering staff, so every strike they throw they need to get. He does a pretty good job of doing that.”
Berger’s only two errors of the year came against Long Beach State on March 5. His fielding percentage was .967 over nine games played and seven starts this season. In addition, Berger was hitting .280 going into this week’s games. He collected nine RBI in 25 at-bats so far this season.
“The key with hitting is just trying to make hard contact,” Berger said. “That’s what I try to do. I go up to the plate hacking at the fastball, and if I see one, try to go the other way with it.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17