SEATTLE — After tinkering with the device the past few days to get it to a point to where he would feel comfortable using it in a game, Astros catcher Martín Maldonado teamed with starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi on Friday night to utilize the the PitchCom transmitter, a wearable device that sends signals from catcher to pitcher.
It was the first time Houston used the new technology in a game in the spring or regular season, and both Maldonado and Odorizzi endorsed it following the Astros’ 11-1 loss to the Mariners at T-Mobile Park.
“I think it worked out pretty good,” Maldonado said. “I only used it with men on second base. It’s something where I feel comfortable with it. I think it’s something that’s going to help us throughout the year.”
Aimed at both improving pace of play and preventing opponent sign-stealing, PitchCom eliminates the need for a catcher’s traditional finger signals. The transmitter has nine buttons for calling the pitch and location. The pitcher has a receiver in his cap, the catcher has one in his helmet and receivers can also be worn by up to three other fielders (typically, the two middle infielders and the center fielder) to adjust defensive positioning. An encrypted channel can be used in multiple languages, and teams can also program in code words to replace pitch names such as “fastball” or “curveball.”
Minor Leaguers tested the system in the Single-A California League last summer, and Major League Baseball gave the green light to its use in 2022.
Maldonado wore the PitchCom transmitter — a black object that looks like a remote control — on the top of the shin guard above his right knee. Odorizzi wore the receiver inside his cap, allowing him to hear a programmed voice call out the pitch and location that Maldonado was calling by pushing a button.
“I had no issues with it,” said Odorizzi, who gave up four runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings. “It was nice with guys on second. We just didn’t give any signs, whatever it might be. If there’s things that people discover, it’s more or less on the pitcher now and what they’re seeing from second base. … I didn’t have any issues. I thought it was perfectly fine.”
With a sellout crowd at the Mariners’ home opener going wild when Seattle loaded the bases in the first inning, Odorizzi had to put his glove over his ear a few times to make sure he picked up the voice and the proper pitch that Maldonado called.
“It just funnels the sound into what I’m looking for,” Odorizzi said. “I didn’t have any issues of I couldn’t hear them, but it wasn’t as relatively of a loud environment today. It was a good test run of it. We adjusted the volume a little bit, but overall, I could hear things quickly.”
Odorizzi is sold. He said he plans to use PitchCom going forward.
“It just takes away one less thing of picking up signs,” Odorizzi said. “We both know what we’re throwing, so the catcher can set up late. It just eliminates the spectrum of what guys may be looking at from second base and try to relay it in a quick order.”
Maldonado said any future use of PitchCom will depend on who’s pitching and whether he wants to use it.
“I would say I’m here for the pitcher, whatever they feel comfortable doing,” Maldonado said. “I think it will help in the long run. It’s something that’s easy. I was talking to Jake and he said there was a couple of pitches where it was loud and he kind of had to put his glove on his ear to listen to. The volume is something that could get better, especially with the bases loaded and the fans going crazy. Like in the playoffs.”
Maldonado originally planned to use PitchCom for the first time this past Tuesday with Luis Garcia on the mound, but Jason Castro ended up starting that game at catcher. Maldonado didn’t rule out using it Saturday with veteran right-hander Justin Verlander set to take the mound.
“I’ve 60 percent convinced J.V. to use it [Saturday],” Maldonado said. “We’ll see.”