Gonzalez and Lobaton never formally were named as permanent batterymates, but the two had worked together in 19 of the left-hander's final 23 starts in 2015 and enjoyed success. So Baker kept them together each of the first eight times Gonzalez pitched this season.
Until tonight. Seeking more offense from his erratic lineup, and wanting to make sure his No. 1 catcher actually got a chance to work with one of his best starters, Baker paired up Gonzalez with Wilson Ramos for the Nationals' series opener against the Mets.
"I don't think it's a big deal," Baker said. "That's his job, to catch whoever. And that's Gio's job, to throw to whoever's back there."
Baker had plenty of reasons for doing this tonight. It's not simply a matter of the offensive disparity between Ramos (.347 batting average, four homers, 20 RBIs, .914 OPS) and Lobaton (.178 average, zero homers, three RBIs, .537 OPS). Ramos had just been given Saturday's game in Miami off. And Baker prefers to ensure all of his catchers and all of his pitchers are comfortable with each other, just in case they're forced to work together long-term.
"I just thought it would be best," the manager said. "Because there's going to be some point in time where Loby might be hurt, or somebody other than him is going to have to catch Gio, whether it's in the playoffs, World Series, next week, at some point in time. It's no big deal."
Here's the kicker: Gonzalez has been nearly as successful pitching to Ramos as he has been pitching to Lobaton. In 44 career games with Ramos as his catcher, Gonzalez owns a 3.42 ERA with an opponents OPS of .680. In 40 career games with Lobaton as his catcher, Gonzalez owns a 3.16 ERA with an opponents OPS of .648.
In other words, don't expect Baker to stick with an exclusive personal catcher for any of his pitchers.
"I've done that in the past, where I had designated catchers for designated pitchers. But it's backfired on me a couple times when the designated catcher got hurt and he no longer could catch," the manager said. "And both were kind of lost. I know it's a big game, but you're playing these Mets, you've got to have some offense in there at the same time. That's not to say Loby is not. But Ramos is one of the premier offensive catchers in the game. And he didn't catch Saturday because we got in so late on Friday. So would you like to see Ramos on an every-other-day program?"
Ramos, for his part, was glad to get the opportunity to work with Gonzalez for the first time since Sept. 11, 2015.
"Obviously, I felt a little uncomfortable being away from catching Gio for a while," he said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. "There's a process of, you want to feel comfortable with everybody. There's certain things I can't control, that's the manager's decision, as opposed to who I catch and who I can't. But looking outside and to the game inside, I pay attention. And I'm very pleased to hopefully get back there and do a good job for him. We did a great job before, and then I stopped catching him. We were a good battery. Hopefully it continues. I'm just looking forward to getting back there and seeing how things go with him."