Riley Adams has done just about everything the Nationals could’ve asked of him since joining the club following his acquisition from the Blue Jays. The 25-year-old catcher enters today’s series finale in Cincinnati batting .288 with a .420 on-base percentage and .920 OPS in 81 plate appearances, with nine extra-base hits to his name.
So how is it that he’s in the lineup today for the first time in 11 days?
That’s where it gets a bit complicated. Adams, for all he’s shown to date, is not the organization’s projected No. 1 catcher for the long term. That’s Keibert Ruiz, who has been on a tear at the plate himself over the last week and a half and has started seven of the Nats’ last nine games.
The two starts Ruiz didn’t get in that time both went to Alex Avila, the soon-to-be-retiring veteran who got an opportunity to catch Patrick Corbin several times and then served as Josiah Gray’s batterymate earlier this road trip in Miami (also Avila’s hometown).
All of that has left Adams the odd man out, for now. It doesn’t mean anyone’s soured on him or has changed an opinion of his future role with the Nationals.
“We want to see Keibert get the bulk of the catching,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I wanted to catch Alex a couple times. I wanted him to catch Corbin. And then I also wanted him to catch Josiah, just being that he was going to be in Miami, but that was big for me. I told Riley I was going to get him some games before the year ends. He’s going to play today. But he’s been good.”
Known more for his offensive prowess than his work behind the plate, Adams has shown both power and patience as a hitter in his limited sample size. His .500 slugging percentage ranks ninth among all major league catchers with at least 80 plate appearances since the All-Star break. His .420 on-base percentage ranks second.
“The other day he came in to pinch-hit and worked a really good at-bat and got a walk,” Martinez said, referencing Adams’ 11th inning walk Friday night. “He took some really close pitches. But we know that about him. He’s got a good eye up there. We like that about him.”
The Nationals do want Adams to continue to work on his defensive game. He has thrown out only two of 17 basestealers, though some of that is attributable to pitchers letting runners get a good jump.
The club also has had him start taking pregame drills at first base on occasion, though everyone insists there are no plans to use him there under anything other than late-game situations out of necessity.
There may be only a couple more starts for Adams during the season’s final week, but Martinez already has an idea what to expect of him in 2022. Even if Ruiz is the designated No. 1 catcher, Adams will get ample chances to start in his place.
“He’s going to get an opportunity to play, play quite a bit,” the manager said. “As you know, this day and age, a catcher that catches every day ... they need days off. So next year coming to spring training, he needs to be ready. He’s going to get a lot of opportunity to catch in spring training, and then we’ll see where he’s at.”