Davey Johnson has said for months now that he feels he has two No. 1 catchers. From his perspective, how better to use those two guys than to alternate them on a daily basis, giving them equal playing time?
After going with Wilson Ramos behind the plate on opening day, Johnson wrote Kurt Suzuki’s name into today’s lineup as his starting catcher. Those two will continue to trade off days for the foreseeable future.
“That’s a tribute because I like them both,” Johnson said. “They’re both great catchers. They both handle the staff very well. Both bring a lot to the table. Especially with Willy, he’s had a great spring coming back from that (knee) injury. This also gives him a little more time to regroup between starts.”
Some managers like pairing a catcher with certain starting pitchers, allowing a rapport to develop among the batterymates. Suzuki and today’s starting pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, played together with the A’s from 2008-2011, and they got a lot of time together down the stretch last season, as well, after the Nationals acquired Suzuki in a trade with Oakland.
But Johnson won’t exclusively match Suzuki and Gonzalez, nor will he with any other catcher/pitcher combo.
“‘Both you guys, that’s two goes into five. You’re going to keep changing,’ ” Johnson said he told his catchers. “And I’m comfortable with that. The way it worked out this way, I like Suzuki catching (Gonzalez) his first start. That’s fine.”
Johnson did acknowledge, however, that making sure his two catchers are getting enough playing time will “get more difficult as the season goes on.”
It’s certainly tougher to stay mentally and physically ready for games when you’re not playing on a consistent basis. Any player will tell you that.
Suzuki appeared in all but four of the Nats’ final 31 regular season games last season, and played every inning of their five postseason games. That schedule will change a bit now that Ramos is healthy and will get half of the starts.
“You catch bullpens, you do whatever you can to stay in shape,” Suzuki said, when asked what he can do to remain ready with less playing time. “You hit extra. There’s things you can do. It’s obviously not the same as going out there in game situations, but there’s definitely ways you can stay sharp.”
Suzuki isn’t one to talk strategy with Ramos on days that Ramos is catching, saying that he knows how it feels to have too much information coming at a catcher from different angles. But there are ways that he feels he can still pick up on things during games, even when he’s not behind the plate.
“You definitely watch hitters (from the dugout), watch who’s aggressive, which times they’re aggressive chasing pitches and whatnot,” Suzuki said. “You just kind of watch the game, and it’s a lot different watching from the sidelines, that’s for sure, but you can still pick up some kind of things from watching from the dugout.”
Suzuki would surely prefer to be in the lineup than sitting on the bench, but he understands Johnson’s conundrum.
“Both of us deserve to play every day,” Suzuki said. “Ramos is a great No. 1 catcher. I think we team up well together. I think we can both complement each other very well. To keep us both healthy for the full season is what’s important. It’s important to help the team win ballgames. Whether I’m catching, whether Ramos is catching, there’s always going to be ways you can help the ball club win.”