WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Communication and the exchange of new ideas and strategies are part of the relationship building going on in spring training between Nationals pitchers and two new veteran catchers, Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki.
Nats ace Max Scherzer focused after his Friday start on how the exchange of new ideas and relationship building with Gomes is a process that is beginning to gain momentum as spring training comes to a close.
Scherzer likes the idea of having Gomes and Suzuki on the roster and is eager for the chance to work with them during the season.
“The two guys we do have are both veterans,” Scherzer said. “If they were two rookies, then, yes, this would be a lot tougher challenge. But when you are dealing with two veterans, the years that they have, pitchers they’ve caught, they really know the game, they really understand it.
“They are students of the game. I trust a lot of things they are saying. And a lot of the things they are saying to me make a lot of sense so It gives me a different thought process on how to attack this year and what we’re going to try to accomplish.”
Gomes said he follows Scherzer’s lead and adds ideas of pitch sequencing along the way so they can find a way to keep the hitter guessing as to what might be the next pitch. Between innings Friday during Scherzer’s start, you could see Gomes quickly meet the Nats ace as he headed to the dugout and go over the pitch sequences they just used to get the batters out.
“It’s one of those things where, honestly, he knows what works for him, so there’s really not a crazy amount that we can (alter), but you want this newness and everything to keep going,” Gomes said. “That’s really what I’m focusing on, knowing where he wants to go with the pitches, what he likes to follow up with pitches, how he likes to finish guys. Once the season starts, things are going to change a little bit. We might not have a feel for a pitch, so we might have to use another one. That’s where the adjustments go during the season.”
Stephen Strasburg said after his Saturday start said he knows what Suzuki can do because they were teammates in 2012 and 2013. Strasburg is familiar and likes the way Suzuki calls his games. Plus he also very much appreciated a key defensive play made by the backstop that kept the Nats out of a big inning.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a new catcher,” Strasburg said. “I’ve thrown to him many times in the past, and, you know, it’s obviously the play that he made there kind of got me out of a crooked number and what he’s been able to do with the bat the last few years has been huge, as well. So I love throwing to Zuk.”
Strasburg said building a relationship with a new teammate who will catch him like Gomes begins in spring training starts. These moments where they get in rhythm will benefit their communication during a high-stakes game in the regular season.
“I think it starts out with moreso kind of telling them what you like to do, and then a lot of it is what they see and how you can incorporate new sequences,” Strasburg said. “But Yan has a track record and reputation, and I knew that coming in. I’m one to pick other guys’ brains moreso (than) to speak up, but if they ask me what I like to do, I’ll definitely tell them.”
Gomes said spring training is about building that relationship with his batterymate. He has been pleased to see that there is a give and take between him and the Nats hurlers. He appreciates that they are willing to listen to different ways of doing things.
“In spring, being new here, I kind of just want to get to know how we communicate with each other,” Gomes said. “Now from the last outing, it’s more like how can we execute pitches and how can we set guys up. What he likes to set guys up. What is really cool is all these guys are just very open to the ideas that both of us have. And then I’m getting the pitch they want to execute and I try to get on the same page as them.”
Another facet is the bond building between Gomes and Suzuki. There is no jealousy for playing time: Who will start and who will back up. There is a healthy exchange of ideas, a comparing of notes, on how to get a hitter out. Gomes said Suzuki’s recent experience and knowledge of the National League benefits Gomes coming over from the Indians and not seeing these hitters that much in the American League.
“It’s been awesome. He played the last year or two in this league, so it’s been really awesome getting to talk to him about the league and about stuff like that,” Gomes said. “He brings in a lot of knowledge. This guy has been in the league a long time and he has played in both leagues. The more you get to know him you know why he’s done it for so long.
“He’s a great guy and he’s definitely helped me out a bunch already, and hopefully I can (return the favor). Our communication levels are pretty decent. Whenever I catch a guy, I’ll come to him and (say) maybe use this stuff, try next time again, see how it looks, stuff like that. It’s been really going well.”