This week, Cubs Insider caught up with the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate on the road in Sacramento, Calif. In Saturday night’s low-action win against the River Cats, Iowa Cubs outfielder Trey Martin stood out, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and a pair of nifty catches in center field.
Luke Ferrell also started and threw 4.1 shutout innings. After 74 pitches, I-Cubs manager Marty Pevey lifted him – perhaps to conserve him for yet another call-up to Chicago later in the season. Dakota Mekkes finished the game with two perfect innings, notching two strikeouts and topping out several times at 94 mph.
Pevey sat down with CI before the game, still sweaty after throwing a late afternoon BP session in 95-degree heat. (And yes, he and much of the team took BP in blue “Just Don’t Suck” shirts.) The 55-year-old former catcher is in his sixth season piloting the Iowa Cubs. In a quick Q&A, he shared his thoughts on Mekkes, his days catching Randy Johnson, and his favorite player all-time to have coached.
CI: The Iowa Shuttle this year has been revving red-hot, especially on the pitching side. Does keeping the merry-go-round of pitchers fresh for call-ups add an extra wrinkle to all you juggle as manager?
MP: Well yes, but we still just prepare them for the big leagues as we’ve always done it. We follow the same philosophy everyone does throughout the organization. When they are ready, that’s Theo [Epstein], Jed [Hoyer] and Joe [Maddon] who make the call-up decisions. They ask our opinion, and we give it. Me and [pitching coach] Rod Nichols and [hitting coach] Desi Wilson and [assistant coach] Chris Valaika.
CI: You were the Cubs minor league catching coordinator from 2010-12. There is the physical side of catching – the blocking, framing and throwing – but how do coach catchers on managing a game and a pitching staff?
MP: Number one, the pitcher-catcher relationship is probably the most undervalued resource in today’s game. No one really understands it unless they have been involved with it or been a manager. The importance of the catcher-pitcher relationship is huge. Coaching it does come on a game-by-game basis.
But it’s also an individual-by-individual thing. Some guys just work better with some guys. That’s just the nature of the game. They are just on the same page and have the same thought processes. Different catchers will also just recognize certain pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses differently.
CI: But do you have an approach for how catchers can improve their rapport with the wide variety of pitcher personalities?
MP: This is important not just with catchers, but with my whole staff and all players. My approach is to lead by being communicative, making sure that you relate things well and don’t hold things under your hat for too long. Those are concepts that are real important to being successful [throughout a roster].
CI: I want to ask about reliever Dakota Mekkes. By resemblance and stats, he reminds me of former Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, though their stuff and delivery is quite different.
MP: Probably not quite as much velocity [as Jenks], but still very good command and body control for a big guy. Mekkes has come a long way in the last year and a half.
CI: And he really uses that lunging, three-quarters delivery to his advantage. The ball seems to get quicker on hitters than what the radar gun shows.
MP: He’s deceptive. The more we can throw off the timing of the hitter, the better chance we have to get them out. It’s all about timing.
CI: And when you are 6-foot-7, you are that much closer to the plate. It’s a bit of a Randy Johnson effect but from the right side. Just not with the same velocity, of course.
MP: I don’t know about that. I played with Randy and that was a different cat altogether. I caught him at a lot of levels. He threw over 100. He was 103-105 consistently, and this was before pitch counts. He was something else. He was raw-boned and threw hard.
CI: When you caught Johnson, did you have umpires say to you, “You better be on you’re A-game today, cause I don’t want to take one of those fastballs”?
MP: Of course. Veteran umpires always say that. Absolutely. The more you [catch someone like Johnson], the better you get at it.
CI: Did you go with a foam-insert in your glove when catching Johnson?
MP: With him, the only thing I used was a thumb guard. Not the foam hitting guard for thumbs. It’s made by the trainer, they form it in the hydrocollator. Heat it up. It’s a piece of plastic that forms to your thumb.
CI: This is Hall of Fame induction weekend. I’m curious, have you been to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown?
MP: Yes, in 2007 when I was coaching in Toronto, we were in Cooperstown to play the Orioles in the Hall of Fame exhibition game [discontinued in 2009]. But we flew in and flew out the same day. So I haven’t seen the Hall of Fame, except on TV. But I did see the Yogi Berra Museum in New York. I recommend checking that out.
CI: Who was your favorite baseball player growing up in Georgia?
MP: Ted Simmons. I just liked the style. He played for the Cardinals, switch hitter, catcher, had the long hair, kept it in a pony-tail. He had a nickname, Simba. I just thought he was cool.
CI: What is the best memory from your playing career?
MP: Gosh, I don’t even know. I had several games [in the minors] with five hits. One game, I had 7 or 8 RBIs. I remember catching my first game in the big leagues [with the Montreal Expos]. I didn’t have many but caught three shutouts in the big leagues.
Those are all real good memories. Mark Langston was traded for Randy Johnson, and I caught a shutout with him in St. Louis, from where I was traded. So that was a nice memory.
CI: Do you have a favorite player you managed or coached?
MP: Probably my favorite player of all-time is Reed Johnson. Here’s a guy that struggled and scraped and had to claw his way into the big leagues and stayed there. This guy, I tip my hat to him even today. He got 12 years in the big leagues and made 12 teams out of spring training with 12 one-year contracts. You tip your hat to that.
CI: If you were commissioner for a day, what is one thing you would change about the sport?
MP: I think I would – and most of the players would disagree because it would probably mean less money – but I would make sure that there was never a DH in the National League. I think it kind of messes with the integrity of the game. Because you’ve got to manage. You’ve got to know what your players can do and their abilities. They have to be more versatile. As you look at the Cubs, you see how versatile they are, and it’s not easy.
CI: You’ve had a lot of jobs in baseball, but name one you haven’t done but you’d love to do for just one day?
MP: I would be really interested to work on the grounds crew. It would be awesome. Just mowing and raking and making it look pristine. You know, the way you would want your yard to look because it is their yard.