The Astros swiped two more bases off the Pirates on Friday, giving opponents 81 against Pittsburgh this season. Catchers Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo haven't had a chance at throwing out all of those runners, but of the 78 throws the pair have made, only 10 have resulted in a runner being caught.
That accounts for a success rate of just 12.8 percent, the lowest in the Majors.
"Obviously, there are some issues that we are working through," Russell said. "The biggest thing is trying to get our pitchers more aware of it. It's been a big emphasis since Day 1. We're going to continue to push it. We've got to make sure that we get better at holding runners and throwing them out."
The fault, as Russell alluded to, lies with both the catchers and pitchers. Doumit, the primary catcher, has caught just five of the 61 attempts (eight percent) made with him behind the plate. Last season, Doumit threw out 28 percent of the runners going against him and 21 percent in 2008.
There are a few factors, Russell said, that could be affecting Doumit's proficiency in this area. The Pirates would like his footwork -- when coming out of his crouch to throw -- to be shorter. They'd also like his release to not be so long. The fact that Doumit has struggled in this area all year appears to also be affecting the trust he has in his ability.
"Ryan has just been erratic," Russell said. "I think he's had some opportunities to throw some guys out and he'll just miss. There are some times that he doesn't have a chance. It gets to the point, too, where guys are running and you try to do too much, and his accuracy tends to go out the window a little bit, too."
When it comes to the pitching staff, Russell noted the need for some of the team's pitchers -- he singled out Zach Duke and Paul Maholm -- to do a better job of altering their delivery and varying how long they hold the ball before releasing it. Too consistent of a motion has allowed baserunners to be too exact in timing their jumps.
"We're continuing to emphasize to the pitchers that it's not a robotic thing," Russell said. "[Jeff] Karstens is good at holding runners and varying his deliveries. [Brad] Lincoln has done a good job with it. Ross [Ohlendorf] is starting to vary his times to the plate."
To date, Karstens has allowed just three stolen bases (six attempts), while Duke has allowed six in seven attempts and Maholm has given up four in five attempts. Ohlendorf has allowed the most, with 13 of the 14 runners attempting to steal on him being successful.
All of these objectives are not only being taught at the Major League level, but they are also a part of the program that is implemented at each Minor League level.