Jonathan Lucroy wasn’t a National on Saturday. Three days later, he somehow found himself squatting behind the plate to catch Max Scherzer’s first pitch of the 2021 season. And then playing a significant role in the Nationals’ 6-5 walk-off win over the Braves.
How did the 34-year-old catcher process all of that?
“It’s kind of funny, but I feel like a mercenary,” he said during a postgame Zoom session with reporters. “You know the movie ‘The Replacements’ with Keanu Reeves as the quarterback? Shane Falco. That’s what I kind of feel like out there.”
With all due respect to Falco and the Hollywood-manufactured “Washington Sentinels” of a made-up football league, this was the real deal. Yes, Lucroy was a last-second replacement after both Yan Gomes and Alex Avila were among the nine Nationals forced to open the season on the injured list following last week’s COVID-19 outbreak. But this was no movie script. This was all too real.
Lucroy hadn’t even suited up to work out with his new team Monday because he was still waiting for his intake testing to come back negative. He did, though, spend some time over the weekend talking on the phone with Scherzer, the two starting the process of scouting the Braves opening day lineup.
Not that it could compare to the real-world knowledge of a pitcher and catcher who have actually worked together before.
“We talked, so we were somewhat on the same page,” Lucroy said. “But obviously the first time you catch somebody it’s going to be a little weird, feeling each other out. It’s like a relationship. It’s like a marriage sometimes, with pitchers: You have to be able to talk to them and figure out how you work.”
Whether the unfamiliarity between batterymates had anything to do with Scherzer’s shaky start to the game - he surrendered four home runs in the first three innings - the two got themselves on the same page by the time the outing was over. Scherzer retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, six via strikeout.
“It was kind of weird at first, trying to understand where, like, his strike zone is, where I’ve got to aim at on his body to execute pitches,” the three-time Cy Young Award winner said. “But at the end of the day, I’m throwing to execute these pitches. I don’t make any excuses. For me, I didn’t execute early in the ballgame and I paid for it. So take it and move on and hopefully we have a chance to work together again. But as I understand it, we should be getting (Gomes and Avila) back sooner than later.”
Lucroy knows his time here is limited. So he wants to make the most of it, however long it lasts. And he did that Tuesday, delivering a two-out, two-run double down the third base line in the bottom of the second to drive in the Nationals’ first runs of the season. (If you claim to have seen that coming, you’re clearly lying.)
What’s next? Well, he’ll be behind the plate again this afternoon for the first game of a 14-inning doubleheader. And if he feels strong physically, manager Davey Martinez suggested he might just put him in the lineup again for the nightcap.
At some point, though, Lucroy’s time here is going to come to an end. The Nationals intended all along to utilize the Gomes-Avila catching tandem, and there isn’t room for another veteran. For his part, Lucroy’s not worried about that right. He’s having too much fun helping his brand-new team win games.
“I mean, look, I get to play baseball ... it’s going to be great regardless,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of great teams and be around - almost 10 years, I’m almost there - so whatever happens is going to happen, and I’m OK with it. I mean, these guys, they got to do what they got to do. And they got a special clubhouse, so I’m just happy to be a small part of it right now.”