Personal catchers no longer?
Astros' Cooper says club will try to avoid historic practice
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The PC era may be coming to a close, at least in Houston.
Personal catchers, common in recent years as managers matched up a backup catcher with a certain pitcher for various reasons, are still around, but you might not see one utilized by the Astros this season.
New manager Cecil Cooper, with rookie catcher J.R. Towles backed by veterans Brad Ausmus and Humberto Quintero, said Thursday he won't necessarily match certain catchers with certain pitchers. For example, it isn't a given Ausmus will catch every one of Roy Oswalt's starts this year as he did in 2007.
"I think the days have gone by when we have that luxury any more," Cooper said. "[Fernando] Valenzuela had a certain guy. A few years ago, Roy had [Raul] Chavez. Certain guys had certain guys that were going to catch them. At some point you've got to get past that, you really have to."
Greg Maddux had Charlie O'Brien, Eddie Perez, Henry Blanco and others when he was with Atlanta. Maddux liked the arrangement, and it enabled Braves manager Bobby Cox to give his backup catcher a regular start each week. Doug Mirabelli catches Tim Wakefield in Boston, in part because Mirabelli is so adept at handling Wakefield's knuckleball.
The Astros view Towles as their catcher of the future, and as such, want him to get comfortable working with the entire staff. In the short term, the club might be better served having the veteran Ausmus catch some of the younger starters -- like Wandy Rodriguez -- for obvious reasons. But Cooper doesn't want to commit to any set in stone rotation with his backstops. He's still formulating his plans.
"That [having Ausmus catch the youngsters] is the ideal situation," Cooper said. "[If] J.R. Towles is our catcher of the future, then he needs to catch everybody. We can't have a special guy here and a special guy there. If he's the regular catcher, then at some point, he's got to move on in there and be the guy all the time.
"If Brad's not here next year, [Towles] has got to catch them. So at some point, we have to start moving it that way. Ideally, this year [having a veteran presence would] be great; Wandy might benefit from having a veteran guy. We'll just have to see how this plays out, see who's in the rotation."
Oswalt calls his own games, so it's not critical who catches the right-hander. And Cooper admitted he might decide to go with a designated catcher for Oswalt's starts -- or Rodriguez's.
"It's possible. I don't want to rule it out," Cooper said. "Or even [for] Wandy, Ausmus [may be] your guy. I understand [personal catchers]. I'm sensitive to all that stuff. I've got to be. But at some point in time, if [Towles] is the catcher of the future, we've got to catch him. That's not being hard line, that's just simple."
Who catches who won't be a controversial topic for the Astros, according to Oswalt and the catchers, and Cooper won't let it become a distraction.
"I'm not going to let it be an issue, we're going to try and work through it. You have to go slow with those kind of things," Cooper said.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.