Nats' young catchers helping each other navigate life behind the plate

ATLANTA - When the equipment truck loaded up in D.C. and prepared to drive to the Nationals' charter plane, it was crammed with more catching gear than usual.

A total of four catchers have spots in the visitors' clubhouse at Truist Park: Riley Adams, Tres Barrera, Israel Pineda and Keibert Ruiz. Adams starts tonight, catching starter Cory Abbott, while Barrera and Pineda will be on the bench. Ruiz is the surprise addition, as the 24-year-old has recently been cleared to travel with the team.

“He’s feeling better,” said manager Davey Martinez of Ruiz, who has been sidelined since Sept. 8 with a testicular contusion. “He’s still pretty sore, but he obviously is feeling better, he’s able to fly with us.”

Ruiz won’t appear in any more games in 2022, but the Nats have designs for him in the final two weeks of the season.

“We want to keep him around,” Martinez said before Monday’s series opener. “Before the season’s over, he can maybe just kinda work out light and get going so that when the time comes, we feel like he’s ready to get ready for the season, spring training next year.”

From the bench, Ruiz can provide an extra set of eyes for the team’s three active catchers, and even lend some words of wisdom to Pineda, who is two years his junior. 

“Keibert actually can sit, and he goes over everything with Riley Adams and he communicates with those guys,” said Martinez. “And he’s also been helping Pineda as well. It’s nice to have him around. Yesterday he sat in the dugout and I saw him talking to Pineda a lot, so it’s good to see him moving around and be able to do some stuff.”

The most veteran member of the group is also the one who has received the least playing time: the 28-year-old Barrera, who strangely hasn’t been used in a game since being recalled on Sept. 1.

For an organization that has relied heavily on veteran backstops for the last decade – think Kurt Suzuki, Yan Gomes, Matt Wieters – the Nats finally have an abundance of youth at the most grueling position on the diamond.

But with youth comes inexperience, and the Nats want their catchers to get as much time around each other and the pitching staff as possible.

“Catching is a tough position,” said Martinez. “They really gotta see the game in a different perspective and they gotta understand how to handle pitchers. That’s something that we value. We want these guys to really go out there and learn our pitchers, because at any given moment one of those guys could have an injury like Keibert. They gotta come up and play, but they’ll recognize pitches.”

Prized pitching prospect Cade Cavalli has also joined the team on the road, three days after receiving a cortisone shot in his throwing shoulder.

“Hopefully, by the end of this week we can get him back to throwing,” said Martinez. “We’ll see.”

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