Suzuki’s pregame throwing drill helps his pitcher’s in-game success

During early pregame at Nationals Park, Kurt Suzuki and bullpen coach Henry Blanco perform a catching drill in the outfield.

Suzuki stands in uniform with his catcher’s glove and a baseball in center field, about 50 to 60 yards away from Blanco, who takes his spot on the right field foul line close to Nationals bullpen.

Suzuki begins the program by throwing the baseball as hard as he can to Blanco, who catches it and throws it back.

Suzuki-Gear-Nats-Gray-sidebar.jpgAfter Suzuki throws the first ball, he walks toward Blanco and receives the return throw. Then, while continuing to walk toward the right field foul line, he throws the ball at full strength back to Blanco. They continue this routine back and forth, until it ends with Suzuki soft tossing the ball to Blanco from a few feet away.

Manager Davey Martinez says this is another example of Suzuki’s attention to detail that can pay dividends during the game.

“One hundred percent. Here’s a guy that takes pride in his catching,” Martinez said on a Zoom video call. “He has been really good. He works really, really well with Henry Blanco. He had that issue last year with his arm and (Blanco) corrected some things and he still works on it. Works on his arm strength every day. That’s why they do that program.

“He takes catching very personal, more so than his hitting. When he hits he just goes up there and he says, ‘I just basically go up there and try to hit a fastball as hard as I can.’ His catching, he puts a lot of thought into it and he is very meticulous in how he does things.”

In snaring potential wild pitches and blocking pitches that are thrown into the dirt, Suzuki and Yan Gomes do a good job in preventing runners from getting an extra base. Martinez says he appreciates his backstops being able to save runs with their defense.

“I think for both of our catchers, they don’t realize how good they are back there, but they are really good,” Martinez said. “Both him and Yan Gomes complement each other and they do so well back there handling our pitching staff.”

Last week, there were moments in the same game when Suzuki stopped errant pitches from Javy Guerra and Tanner Rainey from getting away from him.

Go back to that game against the Mets in New York on Aug. 11. Rainey struck out Michael Conforto in the eighth inning on a called third strike. The pitch was listed as a 96 mph four-seam fastball.

“It was supposed to be a four-seam away and I did have a little trouble gripping the ball,” Rainey said. “Hands were sweaty. I was trying to grab the rosin or anything I could. I got a little around it. I think it may have cut a little more than anything I usually throw. So I think it kind of caught him off guard as well as myself.”

Rainey said it was another example of how Suzuki saves run possibilities by gloving pitches that were not quite where he thought they were going to end up.

“That obviously saved one more at-bat,” Rainey said. “You keep the winning run away from the plate, you keep the tying run off the base. So, having that guy thrown out at first no matter what the pitch was. You keep the winning run from getting to the plate and you force their hand.”

That baserunner was important, as is any base runner late in a one-run game. The Nats won that game, 2-1.

Rainey said both Suzuki and Gomes take the pressure off by helping to call his pitches and making big stops.

“Kurt’s been great, all year,” Rainey said. “Kurt is extremely smart behind the plate, has a great idea of how he wants to set guys up or put guys away. Knowing that he’s back there, or Yan, honestly both of them do really well back there. They just make it easier on me, not having so much to worry about as far as the pitch-calling or pitch selection. They kind of handle most of that and there’s not very many times I disagree. So, having them take care and also both be great defensive players. It’s huge.”

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