Kurt Suzuki, hoping to stay sharp between starts, makes his season debut

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Kurt Suzuki makes his first start of the season on Wednesday, catching left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez, the beginning of the shared catching duties for Wilson Ramos and him. Both are capable starting catchers, but Ramos will watch from the bench, just as Suzuki did during Monday’s season opener.

Nationals Manager Davey Johnson is adopting the split workload in the season in order to ease Ramos, 25, back into regular action from a major knee injury last May. In order to stay active and in tune with the pitchers, Suzuki, 29, will catch bullpen sessions in offdays.

“Just to stay sharp, number one, but also to have the pitchers see you back there,” Suzuki said. “If you’re not catching in the game, to at least let them see you in the bullpen, back there receiving the pitches. It’s some kinda step forward.”

Simple math shows that Suzuki and Ramos won’t always be catching the same starters: there are five starters and two catchers. So if they continue alternating every other day, Suzuki will be in line to catcher Stephen Strasburg’s next start and Ramos would be scheduled to catch Gonzalez.

“It’s going to keep changing and I’m comfortable with that,” Johnson said. “But the way it worked out this way, I like Suzuki catching him his first start. That’s fine. Also, like I said, it kinda of a present to Willy starting the opener because he worked so hard to come back. I know it meant a lot to him. It meant a lot to all of us. And that’ll get more difficult as the season goes on, too.”

The added benefit of having Ramos catch the season opener was that Suzuki would catch Gonzalez, with who he has a strong rapport. The two were reunited last season after the Nationals acquired Suzuki in an August trade from Oakland. No catcher has been behind the plate for Gonzalez’s starts than Suzuki, who has caught him for 477 1/3 of his 734 2/3 innings in the major leagues.

The alternating schedule will be tough for Suzuki, who was in the midst of the worst season of his career before his trade to Washington last August, a fact that was attributed to splitting time behind the plate. Suzuki thrives on regular work and playing everyday. Soon after his acquisition, Suzuki became the everyday catcher in Washington, supplanting Jesus Flores. Both Suzuki and Ramos, both easy-going players, have publicly taken the shared duties in stride.

“Whether I’m catching or Ramos is catching, there’s always going to be ways to help the ball club,” Suzuki said.

Watching from the bench, Suzuki said, isn’t wasted time.

“You definitely watch hitters,” he said. “You watch who is aggressive, which times they’re aggressive chasing pitches and whatnot and kinda watch the game. It’s a lot different watching from the sidelines, that’s for sure. You can still pick up some kinda things, from watching from the dugout.”

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