Wieters’ guidance helped Nats pitching staff flourish in 2017

Catcher Matt Wieters’ influence on the success of the Nationals pitching staff cannot be underestimated.

From Gio Gonzalez increasing his tempo between pitches to Tanner Roark using all of his pitches in unique situations, Wieters has been able to bring out the best in each of his pitchers.

Wieters said his philosophy has always been to measure and think out each pitch he suggests to the pitcher and not necessarily what the pitcher might have thought he should throw in a particular moment. That can help to keep the hitter from guessing which pitch is coming at what point in the count.

“It’s how I like to call games,” Wieters said. “(Orioles bench coach) John Russell in Baltimore told me, ‘You don’t have to have the same reason for why to call a pitch, but you have to have a reason.’

Matt-Wieters-catchers-gear-sidebar.jpg“So every pitch you put down, there’s a reason for it. You can have a number of reasons or it can be, ‘I actually thought that would be the best pitch,’ but you have to have a reason to put a pitch down. So I’ll think about it between each pitch and never just put down a number just to put down a number.”

Russell was a catcher in the major leagues for nine seasons and was behind the plate for Nolan Ryan’s sixth no-hitter in 1990 while with the Rangers.

Roark said Wieters’ experience behind the plate is what allowed him to trust the process and not look ahead in the count.

“He’s been around the game for eight-plus years now, and he caught in the AL, so he knows how to call a game,” Roark said. “He knows what guys are looking for. He makes you throw all the pitches that you have so that hitter can’t sit on one certain pitch. He’s very intelligent, and he doesn’t just throw down a sign right away. He sits there and thinks for a second. Then he puts down. That gets rhythm going, so you feel way better out there and last longer out there.”

Left-hander Matt Grace said he noticed how Wieters would call a pitch from him in a certain spot in the count that he may never had considered throwing. And Grace noticed Wieters wasn’t afraid to use every pitch he had in his repertoire in any situation, high- or low-leverage.

“Yeah, he’s really good at that,” Grace said. “I learned a lot from him, just the way he calls games. You can tell he’s thinking back there. I think that was one of the reasons why a period there when I was having some pretty good success throwing my slider a little bit more than I had in the past and he would go to my changeup more.

“In a couple of those outings when I was extended throwing to righties, it kind of got me out of some situations where I would always go to my sinker. Then I started throwing my four-seam a little bit later in the year (after) talking to him, talking about some things I could improve on throwing to righties. He’s been a huge help and he is a huge help back there. That’s why he is who he is.”

What is intriguing is to see how Wieters handles younger pitchers. A.J. Cole, a 25-year-old right-hander, allowed only one run over five-plus innings with Wieters behind the plate in his last start of the season, a 3-1 win at Philadelphia on Sept. 25.

“When we got him over here, we all knew he was a great catcher,” Cole said. “So being a pitcher if you ever got into a tough spot, you always knew the guy behind the plate had your back and knew if you were struggling, ‘Oh, what pitch should I throw here?’ He’d put down a sign, you could trust him. That was always a good thing.

“If you were struggling, an inning was kind of like getting on a pitcher, a couple of hits here and there, he was able to just sit back there and settle you down and, ‘Hey, take your time, take your time, all right, here’s a pitch.’ And you are like, ‘Oh, he’s got me.’ “

Of course, there are issues regarding Wieters’ framing ability, which actually cost the Nats 30 run decrease in framing runs in 2017 than in 2016. And there also is his struggles at the plate to end the last few months of the season, not to mention some of the decisions he made defensively against the Cubs in the National League Division Series.

But his ability to call pitches, handling pitchers of varying experience and personality, plus what his teammates think of him, are extremely valuable factors to the Nats.

New manager Dave Martinez noticed how good Wieters looked at Winterfest, and Wieters spoke about how he has changed his diet to come in at a better weight for spring training. Hopefully these factors can help to offset pitch framing issues, which Wieters has had to work through for most of his career.

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