DETROIT (AP) — In the duel between catcher and base runner, success and failure are separated by fractions of a second. Detroit Tigers catcher Gerald Laird may have found an edge by using an unorthodox, three-finger throwing grip.

“I can get it out a little quicker because I don’t need to find the seam,” Laird said. “I just get it in my hand and go.”

Laird, who leads the American League in caught stealing percentage, said he developed the three-finger method after childhood frustration with the traditional, two-finger throwing style.

“As a kid, I had small hands,” Laird said. “When I threw it, the ball tended to cut a lot so I grabbed it with three fingers and it went straight.”

A typical baseball throw involves the index and middle fingers.

Laird’s grasp, in comparison, can be compared to pitcher’s change-up grip, with the pads of his ring, middle and index fingers across the seams of the baseball as he throws. Although doctors have told him that his finger configuration may be more taxing on his shoulder, Laird said his light grip on the baseball makes the point moot.

Plenty of coaches have tried to break Laird’s atypical hold.

Cypress College head coach Scott Pickler gave it a halfhearted try while Laird was on his roster in the late 1990s.

“I assumed that somebody would break him of it, but they’ve got better coaches than me up in the big leagues so if they can’t get him to change then there was no way I was going to get him to change,” Pickler said.

Laird’s .381 caught stealing percentage trailed only St. Louis Cardinal Yadier Molina’s .455 rate and Houston Astro Ivan Rodriguez’s .385 heading into Tuesday night’s games. Laird, however, had thrown out 16 runners to Molina and Rodriguez’s 10 each.

“It doesn’t bother me as long as he keeps throwing guys out,” Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander said of his catcher’s unique grip.

While Laird has struggled some with the bat, hitting .235 through Monday, he has filled a void at the catcher position left when the Tigers traded Rodriguez to the Yankees last year. After experimenting with Brandon Inge, now the team’s third baseman, the Tigers turned to Laird.

When the Tigers acquired Laird in a December trade, they assumed he would provide solid leadership behind the plate and good defense.

“Everything that we were told about him has been reconfirmed as far as his leadership skills, the great teammate, the great defensive catcher,” said Al Avila, Detroit’s vice president and assistant general manager. “All those things have come to fruition.”

The grip, Avila said, was “trivial.”

Brandon Laird, a first baseman with the Class A Tampa Yankees, didn’t inherit his big brother’s extra-digit grip.

“I throw the right way,” he said.


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