Kurt Suzuki learned he had been traded from the Oakland A’s, the only team he had known in seven professional seasons, at 11 a.m. Friday. Before he said goodbye or allowed memories to gather in his mind, he told an Oakland official, “Get me on the first flight out.”
Suzuki arrived with the Nationals this morning, after his flight landed in the area at about 3 a.m. He is in the lineup today, batting seventh and catching Jordan Zimmermann, a pitcher he has never seen before. The transition between his old, familiar team and his fresh, new home happened in a flash.
“It’s been a whirlwind, for sure,” Suzuki said. “I’ve been with Oakland for, what, seven years, to coming to a new ballclub. I was really looking forward to this opportunity. This is a good situation for me.
“There’s a lot of good memories there, but I’m ready for this and I couldn’t be happier to be a Washington National,” Suzuki added. “I’m just looking forward to hanging out with the guys. I’m getting to know a lot of guys now and meeting everybody, hanging out. I’m just trying to fit in.”
Suzuki will oversee the best pitching staff, statistically, in the majors. The thought of catching the Nationals’ pitchers was perhaps the most enticing part of the trade, in which the Nationals shipped minor league catcher David Freitas to Oakland.
“I’m really looking forward to working with these pitchers, getting to know them,” Suzuki said. “I had a great pitching staff in Oakland for a number of years, and to come here, these guys are incredibly talented. I’ve been watching them on TV and watching them pitch, and I’m really excited.”
Suzuki will undergo a crash course in learning the Nationals’ pitchers and the tendencies of National League hitters. The Nationals acquired him as an upgrade over Jesus Flores, more so defensively than offensively. Suzuki already studied film of tonight’s starter, Jordan Zimmermann, and some Marlins hitters this afternoon.
“It’s the same language,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “You only have five fingers you’re putting down.”
Bench coach Randy Knorr, a 17-year catcher in the majors and minors, said learning the relievers will be more difficult than learning the starters. With starters, Suzuki can at least catch their bullpens prior to a start and talk with him all day. He’ll only catch eight warm-up pitches from a reliever. Still, Knorr said the transition will be time-consuming, but not an insurmountable project.
“The first part is going to be identifying what his ball does, the way it moves,” Knorr said. “And then it’ll be what he likes to do and how he likes to throw, and what’s he see compared to what you see. It’s just a different perspective.
“It’s not that hard. It’s just takes time. You just have to see everybody. I think after a couple times, everybody will be fine.”
It helps that Suzuki will not be counted on to change much of anything. If the Nationals’ staff performs the same with Suzuki as they have prior to his arrival, he’ll have done his job.
“They’re doing great right now,” Suzuki said. “I’m not here to recreate the wheel and say, ‘You can do this.’ They’re doing a great job now. I’m looking to come in, maybe give a couple things, input, but I’m just here to carry it and do whatever I can to help them be successful.”
The one teammate he won’t need to learn is Gio Gonzalez. In August 2008, Suzuki caught the first major league start Gonzalez ever made. He worked with Gonzalez for the next three seasons, until Gonzalez became an all-star.
“To see him grow like he has, and to see him this year, he’s done awesome this year,” Suzuki said. “This pitching staff is incredible. I’m looking forward to working with Gio again and working with this whole pitching staff.”
Gonzalez hailed Suzuki as a game caller and said he would an edge to the way Nationals starters approach their outings.
“He’s aggressive behind the plate,” Gonzalez said. “He’s definitely going to bring some attitude back there, in a good way. He’s going to keep the pitchers on their toes. He’s going to bring some positive stuff over here.
“He’s a good guy, a great teammate of mine when I was with Oakland. Hopefully, he brings some positive vibes over here.”