Much is being said about Lucas Giolito’s highly anticipated major league debut tonight at Nationals Park. Giolito is the Nationals’ top prospect, he has a big presence on the mound, he’s got a powerful fastball and a killer curveball. Every move he makes tonight will be carefully watched and analyzed by media and fans alike.
But there’s also a second part to Giolito’s debut, one that might be getting overlooked a bit as all eyes focus on the 21-year-old: his batterymate, Wilson Ramos. Catchers don’t often get the recognition they deserve for what they do behind the plate, but something should be said for Ramos’ game management.
“Well, that’s the toughest job on the field,” manager Dusty Baker said of Ramos managing a game. “You may strike out or hit into a double play, but then you gotta forget it and go out there and call pitches for your pitcher. I mean, that is a tough, emotional swing. That’s as tough, as quick an emotional swing as there is.
“He’s done a great job, and he’s getting better at it, I think. You know, our pitchers like throwing to him and if he does something questionable, then (pitching coach) Mike (Maddux) will say something or sometimes I might suggest something.”
Baker has a high ceiling for Ramos when it comes to his work behind the plate, but he also has trust in his catcher. Remember, Ramos as caught three no-hitters and a 20-strikeout game over the last year and a half, so he has earned Baker’s full confidence.
“I mean, you know, the whole key is to get better, and the thing I’m getting across to him is that he is my field general,” Baker said. “You know, he’s my right-hand man on the field. And I depend on him as much as anybody, you know, to get the signs, to get the pitchouts, get the throwovers, to call a game, to throw people out, to block balls in the dirt. That is a big, big responsibility, and the better your catcher is, the better your team will probably be.”
Tonight, on top of all that responsibility, Ramos is tasked with guiding a young and highly talented pitcher through his first major league start. Baker said Ramos will serve as a major key in how Giolito does tonight.
“I mean, you know, he’s invaluable,” Baker said. “I mean, no matter how much Giolito studied last night, he can’t know as much as Ramos does about the opposition. And so not only does Ramos have to learn, to know the opposition, he has to learn Giolito in a short period of time. Kind of what makes him tick and what his primary pitches are and when he gets in trouble, his go-to pitch, his double play pitch, his strikeout pitch.”
Ramos has his hands full with starting pitchers like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and now Giolito, and Baker and his staff make sure that he is staying right mentally so he keeps a clear mindset with those big responsibilities behind the plate.
“He’s done a great job,” Baker said. “You know, we always remind him: ‘OK, now you gotta put down the right fingers.’ It’s easy to put down the right fingers after you hit a home run, but it’s not ... It’s very difficult after you struck out with the bases loaded. And ... their No. 1 job is to catch. And then whatever they give out offensively is a bonus.”
And what a bonus Ramos has provided. At the plate, Ramos ranks fourth in the major leagues and second in the National League with a .341 average, and leads all big league catchers with a .385 on-base percentage, .558 slugging percentage and 41 RBIs. His 12 home runs are also tied for the major league lead among catchers. And including his current 10-game hitting streak, Ramos is hitting .367 with half his home run total and 16 RBIs this June.
With Ramos behind the plate, Giolito will rest assured when he takes the mound at Nats Park for the first time and sees his catcher staring back at him, awaiting his first pitch to toss over to the dugout for safe keeping. Ramos has that plate covered from all angles.