On July 6, Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom sensed starter Gio Gonzalez was a bit frustrated at not being able to go past five innings. Gonzalez tied a season high by throwing 114 pitches, forcing him from the game despite only allowing two runs.
Gonzalez backed up that start July 6 with a quality start yesterday in the 2-0 loss at Pittsburgh. With Matt Wieters as his catcher, Gonzalez went six innings and again allowed only two runs. Back-to-back starts with two runs or less is a good sign that Gonzalez is returning to his form that got him off to a 6-2 start in April and May.
Kieboom is the type of catcher who chats up pretty much every teammate that walks by his locker in the clubhouse. He engages every pitcher, starter or reliever, before, during and after games. It is an important quality to have because that relationship built prior to getting on the field could pay dividends in game.
But what does he do once the game has started?
Kieboom said he believes in-game mound visits with Gonzalez are important, and he is not afraid to use them. He also made sure to speak with Gonzalez between innings to make sure they stayed on point.
“Actually, Gio and I have had some really good conversations,” Kieboom said. “For me, it’s about having a dialogue in between innings. (Last Friday), we go through a sequence and I look up on the board and we have five or six visits left. You know, we shake, shake, shake. We had two outs and going out there and talking about it, to me that’s like what I miss having these mound visits. Being able to just say, ‘Time!’ real quick, run out there. It takes 20 seconds. All right, we are on the same page, let’s go back to what we are doing, let’s go back to work.
“You don’t really see that happening anymore like you used to. You know, where it was like, no, no, all right, ‘Time!’ Let’s figure out what we are doing here. What are you seeing? What am I seeing? Let’s get on the same page.”
Kieboom kept his roster spot this week when Wieters was activated off the disabled list. Kieboom has done a nice job of establishing and developing a solid rapport with the pitching staff in his first few months with the club.
Manager Davey Martinez appreciates the relationships Kieboom has forged with his teammates and recognizes how important that communication can be as the game moves along. But he also warned his young catcher to be conservative with his mound visits and spread them out during the game.
“We had a conversation because Spencer likes to talk,” Martinez said last week after the Kieboom caught Gonzalez. “He came up to me and said, ‘I am going to use the mound visits today.’ I said, ‘I get it, it’s OK, but be careful how many you use.’ He said, ‘Well, I want to make sure we are on the same page’. I said, ‘I’m telling you that you got six. Save some for later.’
“But he was good. He takes ownership of the pitching, which I really like. As a young catcher, he really gets involved and likes to talk to the pitchers. Even in between innings, he’s always talking to them to get things right. It’s good to see.”
Kieboom believes mounds visits should be unlimited. He liked having that benefit when he played in the minor leagues. He won’t waste mound visits in the major leagues, but he will employ them before an inning gets away from his pitcher.
“I’m going to try to utilize them more than I have,” Kieboom said. “I think it’s going to benefit everybody. Rather than just using it for big situations, I am going to start trying to use it to prevent big situations. Get on the same page before everything hits the fan. If we can do that, I think it’s going to be really good.
“It’s a feel thing. If you look up there and you got five or six left, it’s fine. Now if you have two left, you are kind of like, ‘Eh, what inning is it? Do I want to do this right now? Do I need to do this right now?’ Those are all playing in your head and just kind of the feel of the game.”
Kieboom also fully understands it’s not entirely up to him. He will first make sure it’s OK to head to the mound with approval from the coaching staff.
“I will look into the dugout and I’ll give them a sign like, hey, I’m going out there, and if they say, ‘No, we need it,’ then we will figure it out (a different way),” he said.
Kieboom said catchers, pitchers and managers are still in a feeling-out period when they start the game with six mound visits. He said in the minors, sometimes the batter would dictate when he would go out to talk to his pitcher. With limited mound visits in the major leagues, he can’t take advantage of that natural pause in a game.
“To me, I think it’s one of those things that people are figuring out as we go,” Kieboom said. “I used to like utilizing them as much as I could and it’s not happening any more. I used to like when (the batter) called time out and (I) was going out to the mound anyways. ... That’s not happening, you can’t do that.”
It is a fascinating part of the game within the game. You would imagine catchers would not be that keen on limiting mound visits. They could care less about speeding up the game. When his pitcher is in trouble or is teetering on watching an outing get away from them, Kieboom is the first one out there to calm his pitcher down, talk him through it, get him back on track.