Yes. "The rules are as they have always been," Maddon said. "A catcher can block the plate with the ball. A runner can knock the catcher over. If a catcher puts himself in harm's way, it's his fault." The new rule states that a catcher cannot block the plate without the ball, which is the old rule; it just wasn't enforced. Now it will be. The idea of the new rule is to prevent a runner from targeting a catcher, going out of his way, veering from his path, in order to crush a catcher. But if, say, the catcher has to move up the third-base line to catch a throw, he is in the path of the runner. If the runner cannot slide, he has no choice, on incidental contact, but to run over the catcher.
"I think it's going to make more guys slide," Hanigan said. "We'll see if it's going to work. I know some of the bigger runners I've talked to are unsure about it. Some of them don't know how to slide into the plate without getting hurt." Matt Wieters said, "We are trying to eliminate the cheap shot to the head. But, as a catcher, you still have to be prepared to get hit. That's how some catcher might get hurt when he thinks the runner has to slide."
Will it change how a catcher blocks the plate?
Yes. But catchers have been trying new ways to block the plate without getting hurt since the Giants' Buster Posey was flattened, and lost for the season, in 2011. Bruce Bochy, Posey's manager and a former MLB catcher, told him not to block the plate as aggressively anymore. Showalter told his primary catcher, Wieters, who blocks the plate as well as anyone in the game, not to block the plate as often because the one run he might save in June is not worth the four months that he might lose on the disabled list if he hurts his knee in a collision.
"It's not going to change how I do things. I've always left an opening in the plate for the runner when I don't have the ball," Hanigan said. "But now, I'm not going to keep an eye on the runner as much as I used to. I'm not as concerned who is running. It's an opportunity to focus on catching the ball as much as possible, which is obvious. But I am anticipating the slide. There will not be as much peeking. I will not be as worried about how to roll after I get hit. I will worry only about catching the ball. It will be a lot less dangerous."
Said Wieters: "We have worked all spring on this because this is a significant change. We are going to treat home plate like it is second base or third base. [Shortstop] J.J. Hardy is one of the best taggers in the game. We're now trying to tag runners like an infielder would." Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said he has adjusted his plate-blocking style, but added, "Two outs, ninth inning, Yankee Stadium, I'm not going to 'ole' a runner coming to the plate."
How many pitchers are wearing protective caps?
Not many, if any. A prototype hat/helmet has been approved for MLB use, but the idea has not spread, even in light of the horrific shot that Aroldis Chapman took off his face March 19. The hat/helmet is padded; it is like a hard-shelled cap, and it doesn't cover a pitcher's face.