Adams makes most of rare start behind plate

It’s either the best or the worst job in baseball, serving as the backup to a No. 1 catcher who plays almost every day. For Riley Adams, it’s reality right now.

With Keibert Ruiz starting as many games behind the plate as any catcher in the majors, Adams is left to watch from the bench. He starts roughly once a week – officially four times in the Nationals’ first 27 games – but has to keep himself physically and mentally ready in case his services are needed at a moment’s notice.

And then he has to actually produce when given the opportunity, no matter how little opportunity he’s had to establish any kind of rhythm.

Given all that, Adams’ performance Saturday afternoon was both notable and impressive. Catching the first half of the Nationals’ doubleheader against the Pirates, he went 2-for-4 with a two-run double while also throwing out a runner trying to steal second off him.

“He did awesome,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He threw the ball down, we got a big out on the stolen base. And he swung the bat well, too. It was awesome. He had a good day.”

It was Adams’ first game appearance in a week, but that kind of layoff is nothing new for the 26-year-old. He went two full weeks between starts prior to that, with Ruiz starting 10 consecutive games behind the plate.

So how did Adams maintain his swing while seeing so few actual pitches in a game?

“Just trying to keep my approach simple,” he said. “Try to get the foot down early, get the hands back, give myself as much time as possible. When you’re not playing as much, the timing is the difficult part there. I think the less moving parts I can have in my swing right now, the simpler it’s going to be.”

It’s been a challenge for Adams to do that over the last year-plus. He struggled at the plate in 2022, batting just .176 with four doubles, five homers, 10 RBIs and a .555 OPS over 155 plate appearances. At one point, he was demoted to Triple-A Rochester to get more regular playing time while Tres Barrera took over as Ruiz’s backup in D.C.

His early season stats so far this month haven’t been great – 4-for-16, one double, two RBIs, one walk, four strikeouts – but it’s such a small sample of games, and the gap between games is so large, it’s hard to draw any real conclusions.

Adams has, however, done well on the defensive side to date. He has now thrown out three of five would-be base stealers, a nice start to his season after he threw out only 5-of-37 runners one year ago.

Adams credited catching coordinator Henry Blanco with helping him improve in this department.

“It’s just working with Henry all the time,” he said. “As much as I can, days I’m not playing I’m trying to catch bullpens, throw to bases, treat a lot of the pregame activities kind of like it’s my game. That’s my time to get my work in. Put in the work there so that when it does come my time to catch, I’ll be ready and I can help the team.”

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