Pitch-blocking problems mount for Tyler Flowers

Thanks to the Dayan Cannon, Tyler Flowers was able to get Ryan Sweeney on the way back to home. - David Banks

Three uncharacteristically poor efforts in as many games raise ire, questions

The seventh inning of the White Sox's 7-0 loss to the Cubs on Monday was yet another rough outing for Nate Jones. He gave up three runs on four hits, including a two-out, two-run "triple" to Anthony Rizzo and an RBI single to Alfonso Soriano.

The Soriano single prompted a visit from Don Cooper, and Steve Stone assumed that Cooper would be reading Jones the riot act:

"With nobody up in the pen, it's going to go something like, 'Son, you've got to get out of this inning, because we don't want to go too deep in that bullpen. So, you got it. Go get 'em.' That wasn't really one of those fatherly talks. It was abrupt and to the point."

But the visuals didn't quite match up with Stone's script. I didn't notice it originally, but Chris Rongey pointed it out on Twitter:

When I skipped back to watch the mound visit, it kind of looks like Rongey was right. Cooper's doing all the talking, but he's not looking at Jones for most of it:

Cooper_flowers_medium

Jones has had his share of struggles -- over his last 30 days he's given up 17 runs (15 earned) over 13⅓ innings. But his troubles on Monday started because Flowers couldn't block Jones' slider in the dirt for strike three, then bounced the throw to first, which allowed Ryan Sweeney to reach.

It was not one of Flowers' best efforts:

Flowers_wp_medium

Flowers called for the slider down, and Jones threw it down. It was a more inside that Flowers anticipated, but considering he called for a wipeout pitch on a 1-2 count, the direction was well within the error range. If I were trying to provide a transcript for Cooper's visit like Stone did, I'm guessing this was closer to the message:

If you're going to call for a slider down, it's your responsibility to make sure that it doesn't get past you. Nate's having a hard enough time as it is. He doesn't need this.

If Cooper was indeed chewing out Flowers, that would be an interesting development, because Cooper has long been an advocate of Flowers' receiving skills. His high praise goes back to 2011, back when Flowers was entrenched behind A.J. Pierzynski and not a sure bet to ever be handed a starting job.

But Flowers hasn't lived up to the billing. Among catchers who don't have to handle knuckleballers -- Toronto's tandem with R.A. Dickey, specifically -- Flowers is tied for the league lead with five passed balls. He wasn't charged with one for Jones' slider because it hit the dirt, but he did take a PB for a nearly identical Jones slider last Wednesday:

Flowers_pb_medium

Which was nearly identical to this Matt Lindstrom "wild pitch" that took the Sox out of a double-play situation in the eighth inning the day before that:

Flowers_wp2_medium

And when you account for Flowers missing the Miami series due to back spasms, this means that he's allowed a blockable/gloveable slider to get past him in each of his last three starts.

He also allowed passed balls in back-to-back games against the Angels on May 10-11, so this detrimental development has legs. It makes one wonder whether Flowers' back problems are worse than advertised, because that would be one way to explain what is otherwise inexplicable. It could even be that the pain isn't active, but the previous soreness/tightness pushed him into bad habits. If his back has nothing to do with it, then he's inadvertently welcoming taking-his-bat-into-the-field speculation.

No matter the reason, he's making it difficult on the people who advocated for him, and making it easier to make a case for Josh Phegley. Phegley's defense would look a lot like this (coincidentally, he also allowed his fifth passed ball of the season Monday night), but he's hitting .331/.395/.655 at Charlotte with no signs of slowing down. If Flowers continues to defend his position like this, it's going to be impossible to offer a convincing defense of Flowers.

The postgame reaction centered on Robin Ventura's general disgust with the defensive effort. I don't see any specific discussion about Flowers. He did talk about Jones, but he didn't suggest immediate action was in the offing:

"Right now (Jones) needs to fix it here," Ventura said. "We've seen it. It's there. I don't know if it's the lack of confidence or what. Stuff-wise, it's not a velocity issue at all. It's going to be more location and the confidence of being able to continue to do that."

That jibes with what we saw on the field. If we're reading properly into the subject of Cooper's mound scolding Monday, it isn't Jones that needs the come-to-Jesus meeting.

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