The lead to my story in today’s print editions provides a slice of the strange undertaking Brett Carroll has agreed to. About three weeks ago, coaches gave him the sense the Nationals were looking for a position player who might be able to serve as an emergency catcher. Carroll, smelling an opportunity to boost his stock to make the team, volunteered.
“I definitely said, ‘Whatever I can do,’ ” Carroll said.
Carroll had made the decision despite having played almost no catcher. He is an outfielder now. He played infield at Middle Tennessee State. The Marlins, who drafted Carroll in 2004, considered converting him into a catcher, as did a few other teams that showed interest in drafting him. Aside from catching a few bullpen sessions for his short-season Class A team, Carroll never did catch.
He was a good candidate, basically, because he wanted to try. (In 2010, when he was desperate for a roster spot, Michael Morse caught some bullpen sessions to demonstrate his willingness.) For the sake of a roster spot, he was willing to work hard at something that, in all likelihood, will never be put to use. Think of how many baseball games you have watched. Now think of how many times you have listened to the announcer say, “Here comes the emergency catcher.”
These Nationals could be a little different, because Jesus Flores is perhaps the best hitter on their bench, and in order to scrape together offense Manager Davey Johnson may be tempted to use Flores as a pinch-hitter – which would put the Nationals an injury away from sending a virtual amateur behind the dish.
So Johnson wants an emergency catcher, and Carroll has endeavored to turn himself into one. The progression began with him crouching and catching pitches from bullpen coach Jim Lett or bench coach Randy Knorr, a catcher for 19 professional seasons. “Just to get a feel,” Carroll said.
The degree of difficulty increased when the coaches starting whipping fastballs in the dirt to hone his blocking skills. “He was throwing some missiles at me the other day,” Carroll said. The toughest challenge came Monday, when Lett and Knorr began unleashing the pitching machine on him in blocking drills.
“They turned the heaters up pretty good,” Carroll said. “I’ll tell you what, my first time, too, I definitely have an appreciation and a respect for the catchers. Being in that spot just for two minutes, I already feel it. I’m not at all saying I’m going to be Superman back there. I’m up for the challenge if I can help the team.”
Soon, Carroll will begin catching bullpen sessions, real pitches throwing real curves and change-ups. He can’t foresee actually catching in a game this spring, but he hopes the bullpen sessions will make him comfortable enough should the need for him to catch in a game arise.
“At this stage in the game, probably I’ll start with the guys who have really solid control who are okay with me catching back there,” Carroll said. “It’s going to take some time. Really, my concentration is going to be on pins and needles if it comes down to a game situation.”
Carroll took on the catching job in order to enhance his chances to make the team, but if he is not careful it could backfire. Monday, he felt sore after coaches pelted him with balls from the pitching machine. Later that afternoon, he came off the bench and played four innings in right field. Carroll wants to catch, but he doesn’t want to wear himself down to the point he makes a bad impression in games.
“I’ve had to kind of learn the quality of work, not the quantity,” Carroll said. “I mean, that’s what I wanted. I’ve been thankful to get this much playing time. I wasn’t expecting that. I also realize I have to get my rest when I can and be smart about it to stay fresh for the game.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL