Throwing the ball back to the pitching mound may be the simplest part of a catcher's job, but it's got former Texas Rangers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia stumped.
Since shoulder surgery late last season, Saltalamacchia can catch a pitch at 90 miles an hour, he can hit it out of the park, but ask him to return the ball 60 feet to the mound and things go awry.
Physically, he can make the toss, but something in his psyche is tripping him up, says Dr. Michael Lardon, who is a psychological consultant for Major League Baseball.
"When you first start off playing a sport, it's physical -- but at the higher level it becomes disproportionally mental," he said.
A mechanical glitch like this can become a persistent unconscious resposne.
"What's frustrating me the most is this is the only thing keeping me from being back in the big leagues," Saltalamacchia told ESPN. "I'm hitting. I'm catching. The only one thing is a simple throw back to the pitcher."
Playing for Triple-A Oklahoma Redhawks this season, Saltalamacchia was off to a rocky start last week when he had a dozen wild throws in a single game.
But Salty -- as the catcher is often called -- has got a new game plan.
In addition to working with sports psychologists, Saltalamacchia has changed his grip on the baseball and is using a tap-tap-throw rhythm for his tosses to the mound, tapping the ball twice against his glove before the throw, according to the Associated Press.
So far, so good. The catcher made it through an entire game with only one inaccurate throw on Monday when he tested out his new system for the first time.
"Hopefully, this is step one," the catcher told the Associated Press. "There's going to be good days. There's going to be bad days. I'm expecting that, [but] I know I'm ready."
Bizarre glitches like Saltalmacchia's are the stuff of movie plot lines -- a similar case was featured in the movie "Major League 2" -- but this type of sports psyche-out is fairly common, said sports psychologist Jack Llewellyn.
Llewellyn has worked with "tons" of players with this exact problem, including Chuck Knoblauch, the New York Yankees' second baseman who notoriously stopped being able to throw to first.
"It's a tough problem to work with mentally because very seldom do you know why it happened," Llewellyn said. "It's almost like a short circuit in the neurological system, like someone pulled the plug on that throw."
Mackey Sasser was another major league catcher with the issue, and Rick Ankiel, a pitcher for St. Louis Cardinals, finally had to be removed from the mound when he couldn't resolve his wild pitches.
Even for those who recover, Llewellyn noted that the problem may not "completely go away."
"It's like it's sitting back there waiting to rear its ugly head," he says.
Often coming on in the blink of an eye, sports psychologists say these mental blocks have a lot to do with an overactive mind.
Llewellyn said often the problem will only occur when players have time to think about their toss. That is why their throws to the base are often spot-on -- because they are split-second reaction throws to tag a man out, not the leisurely lob back to the mound.
Once a player realizes he has a problem, and teammates and even the media are talking about it, it can be hard to relax and "let yourself throw," Llewellyn said.