Nationals catchers succeeding despite splitting time

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Nationals have employed a two-headed catching system, alternating Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki behind the plate, and more than a week into the season it has been a success. Understandably at first, the splitting of duties seemed like it would be tough on both catchers since each is accustomed to playing every day and it’s hard to get into any rhythm when you’re sitting on the bench the next day.

“If you’re going to do it, every other day is the way to do it,” said bench coach Randy Knorr, a former major league catcher who handles the catchers. “You start giving them two days off, then you start seeing the timing come off a little bit. Every other day, they’re getting enough work. It’s like a day off. Come back in and play.”

Before Thursday’s game, which Ramos is starting behind the plate, Suzuki and Knorr took the field early around 3:15 p.m. to work on throws from behind the plate. Suzuki likes to practice his receiving and blocking balls between starts, and Ramos likes to throw long. Suzuki catches bullpen sessions between starts, too, as a way to stay sharp and familiar with pitchers. Ramos, on the other hand, doesn’t because the Nationals want him to rest his surgically repaired right knee.

“It’s a little easier to play every other day than it is to play twice a week,” Knorr said. “We can keep them on this and give them enough work when they want to. And just keep them positive and confident.”

Knorr has been pleased with how both have handled their new roles and the reason for their success, beyond their persistent work in between starts, is simply “because they’re good.” Both catchers are hitting a combined .391 (9 for 23) with three home runs and six RBI.

In working with Suzuki, Knorr said he has been urging Suzuki to slow down on his “pop time” and throws to nab base stealers. Last season, the Nationals were close to the worst at throwing out base stealers in large part because of the pitching staff’s slow times to home plate. This spring, improving those times was a point of emphasis and Knorr said they actually are better. Suzuki is still rushing, like he would have to last season to make up for the pitcher, and missed a runner or two that he shouldn’t have, Knorr said.

“Just rushing a hair,” Knorr said. “Just getting him to recognize that, ‘See right there, you don’t have to rush. You had him.’ Let’s get back to where you feel good and your rhythm is good.”

But the Nationals’ point of view, there’s no need to tinker with something that’s working. Manager Davey Johnson has said he will rely on the alternating system to start and eventually will rely on the matchups or hotter hitter. For now, it’ll be Suzuki and Ramos every other day.

“If they’re successful, why change it?” Knorr said. “Things always show themselves in baseball.”

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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James Wagner · April 11, 2013