The Nationals have been going through catchers the past few days like Spinal Tap uses drummers, and this morning the latest backup arrived in the clubhouse. Carlos Maldonado, a 33-year-old veteran from Class AAA Syracuse, is the next man. Manager Davey Johnson was asked about his plans for Maldonado.
“Keep him healthy,” Johnson said. “Maybe he’s big enough that nobody can hurt him. We have a lot of depth at catching. But this is getting ridiculous.”
The Nationals moved Wilson Ramos, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Saturday night, to the 60-day disabled list. They placed Sandy Leon on the 15-day disabled list after Leon, in his major league debut Monday night, suffered a high-ankle sprain on a vicious collision at home plate.
The Nationals felt terrible for Leon, a 23-year-old who lasted four innings before Chase Headley plowed into him. Leon is still undergoing tests to determine if he will require surgery. Johnson said the play was clean on Headley’s part because Leon had not left enough space for Headley to slide into the dish.
“We go over covering home plate,” Johnson said. “You leave a little bit of an opening on a bam-bam play, so you don’t put yourself in that situation. He put himself right in that spot where he was vulnerable. Gutsy play.”
After the injury, the Nationals turned to Maldonado to backup Jesus Flores. Maldonado, like Flores, Ramos and Leon, is from Venezuela. While he has only 25 games of major league experience, including four with the Nationals in 2010, the other catchers look up to him, by far the oldest member of the group. During spring training, Maldonado sits at the center of a circle as young players listen to him.
“It feels good because I’m here in the big leagues,” Maldonado said. “But at the same time, it’s bad what happened to Willy and what happened to Sandy. I know both of them a lot. I feel bad for them. But I’m happy to have a chance here. I’m trying to help the team as much as I can.”
Maldonado was on a bus from Syracuse to Columbus late last night when he received a text from Leon explaining what happened. Shortly thereafter, he received a call that he would be called up. The nine-hour bus trip ended at 2 a.m. Maldonado caught a flight from Columbus to Washington at 5:30 a.m.
“Not much” sleep, Maldonado said. “But it was worth it.”
When the Nationals left Viera in the spring, before Leon had a tremendous start at Class AA Harrisburg, the Nationals planned on making Maldonado their first call-up if necessary. “He handled the staff as good as anybody, probably the best in the spring,” Johnson said.
If the Nationals had needed another catcher in spring training, they likely would have given Ivan Rodriguez a call. But things have changed – Rodriguez announced his retirement and was feted at a pregame ceremony at Rangers Ballpark, and the Nationals have grown comfortable with their own stable of catchers. Rodriguez has given no indication he wants to return from retirement, and the Nationals have given no indication they would be interested in signing him.
The Nationals, one front office member said, are unlikely to swing any trades before they get healthy. Essentially, their depth has been so tested across the board they would not feel comfortable, right now, dealing from one position to bolster another.
The Nationals also like their internal catching options. Jhonatan Solano is close to returning from an injury. Johnson mentioned David Freitas as a possible contingency. He is a hot-hitting prospect at Class A Potomac whom some Nationals evaluators view – and this is a compliment – as a poor man’s Jason Varitek.
“This organization, as far as a catching crew, has more depth than any organization I’ve ever been with,” Johnson said. “And quality.”