René Rivera has played for 10 different major league clubs over 13 seasons, none of them for more than a total of 130 games, so it’s not exactly unusual for the veteran catcher to find himself scrambling to get to know a new team on the fly.
Still, what Rivera experienced Friday night hours after signing with the Nationals - catching a 4-hour, 15-minute marathon on a sweltering night, and watching the Padres beat his new club 24-8 - could hardly be considered ordinary for even the most-traveled of ballplayers.
“I actually just got home a couple days ago after 10 days in Cleveland. To find out I get to come here is awesome,” Rivera said in a postgame Zoom session with reporters. “I’ve been playing against Washington for years. And now an opportunity to play in here - great organization, great city - I’m looking forward to it, man.”
With Yan Gomes and Alex Avila both still on the injured list and only rookies Tres Barrera and Jakson Reetz available from within their farm system, the Nationals felt they needed to go out and acquire another experienced catcher. They went for Rivera, who had been released by the Indians just before the All-Star break after getting designated for assignment the previous week.
Rivera, who turns 38 in two weeks, didn’t just sign with the Nats, though. He found himself thrust directly into the lineup for the club’s second-half opener against San Diego, needing to learn a new pitching staff in person.
“I was talking to (bullpen coach) Henry Blanco a little bit and (pitching coach Jim) Hickey a little bit,” he said. “But like I said before when I was in Cleveland, I’ve been doing this game for many years. So I kind of know what I have to do with them, how I have to pick their brain, communicate with the pitcher. It’s not easy, but I’ve been doing it forever.”
And the game turned into an adventure for Rivera. He gave up three stolen bases in the top of the first, two of them on a double-steal by the Padres, the other after he threw the ball into center field and let the runner advance all the way to third base.
“It’s something I don’t like to do,” he said. “I get really mad about it. That’s my game: catch and throw. It was a mistake that I made there in that inning. ... That’s something that I’m really going to sleep on. I hate making that mistake. But tomorrow’s another day.”
And the Nationals may have no choice but to keep playing Rivera for the immediate future.
With Gomes just beginning his rehab process after straining an oblique muscle last weekend, and with Avila not yet ready to be activated two weeks after he strained both calf muscles while pressed into emergency duties at second base, Rivera is the only veteran catcher on the roster. Barrera remains in the big leagues, but Reetz was optioned back to Triple-A Rochester before Friday’s game.
Rivera is the sixth catcher to play for the Nationals this season, joining Gomes, Avila, Barrera, Reetz and Jonathan Lucroy. That matches the 2012 Nats for most catchers used in one season.
“Having another veteran catcher, to me, definitely helps, especially with our rotation,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Rene’s been around. He understands pitching. He’s caught some pretty good pitchers in his career. We thought by bringing him in to catch, he can also help Tres Barrera, who is still a young catcher, and help him along the way, too.”