Jake Rogers and Chuckie Robinson don’t mind the challenge.
In fact, the Quad-Cities catchers sort of like the idea of testing their skills against the running game Dayton will throw at the River Bandits over the next three days.
“When you see a team that likes to run, it catches your attention,’’ Rogers said. “There’s a little pride involved. You want to be at your best every game in everything you do, but when you go up against a team that runs a lot, you want to do what you can to slow them down.’’
That has been problematic so far this season for Midwest League teams that have faced the Dragons.
Dayton has stolen a league-leading 51 bases through its first 30 games, 22 more steals than Fort Wayne has managed with the second-most productive running game in the league.
The Reds' affiliate has attempted to swipe 68 bags, 22 more than the next closest team in the league, South Bend.
By comparison, the River Bandits have stolen 20 bases in 33 attempts this season. Five Midwest League teams have been successful even less, with Beloit stealing 13 bases in 19 tries.
“Whether a team runs a lot or doesn’t run a lot, you can’t change your approach and you have to be ready,’’ Robinson said. “Teams that do like to run, they do test your abilities but you can’t make it bigger than it is.’’
Plenty goes into slowing an opponent that frequently attempts to steal a base, beginning on the mound.
How pitchers mix their looks to the bases and how they mix the timing of their pitches is where slowing a running game begins.
“That’s where it has to start. The pitchers have to control the run game,’’ Quad-Cities manager Russ Steinhorn said.
“They have to work with the catchers and the defense to make opponents think twice. Chuckie and Jake have done a good job of working with our pitchers all year and when you go against a team that likes to run, you have to be on top of that part of the game.’’
Dealing with teams that like to create a little havoc on the basepaths isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“We’ll see all sorts of teams over the course of the season and it will be good for us to compete against a team that likes to run,’’ Steinhorn said. “It will be good for our pitchers and our catchers. That’s all part of development.’’
Both Rogers and Robinson have teamed with River Bandits infielders to throw out their share of base-stealing wannabes this season.
Rogers has thrown out 11 of the 21 runners who have attempted to steal bases in games he has caught for Quad-Cities, while Robinson has thrown out three of the seven runners who have tried taking a base in games he has caught.
“We have good confidence in those guys,’’ Steinhorn said. “Defensive has been the strongest part of Jake’s game and his offense is coming around and Chuckie is right there, too. They’re good leaders back there and they do a great job of communicating with the pitchers and the other guys on the field.’’
Both Rogers and Robinson were chosen by the Astros in the 2016 draft, Rogers in the third round out of Tulane and Robinson in the 21st round out of Southern Mississippi.
To both, successfully throwing out a runner attempting to steal is a matter of relying on the strengths of their skill set.
Rogers benefits from a quick release which has become even more effective as he has gained arm strength.
“Growing up, my arm wasn’t the strongest so I had to rely on being quick, quick hands, quick decisions and that helped me a lot,’’ Rogers said. “As my arm strength developed, that has only added to how effective I can be.’’
Robinson said the development of a routine is important as well.
“It’s about consistency, muscle memory and execution,’’ said Robinson, a Danville, Illinois, native. “It’s a split-second thing, so the quickness has to be a part of it along with the strength to get the ball where it needs to go. It’s all part of it.’’
Preparation is a part of it all, too.
Four of the top eight base stealers in the league play for Dayton, with Jose Siri and Brantley Bell topping the list. The pair has combined to be successful in 23 of their 28 attempts so far this season.
“You have to be ready,’’ Rogers said. “And when it’s time to make a play, you have to make it.’’