The names are the hardest part for Jose Lobaton. It’s still too early in spring training for the Nationals’ new backup catcher to worry much about handling their pitching staff. For now, he’s still trying identify the people throwing baseballs to him.
“A lot of new faces,” Lobaton said. “I’ve just seen them on TV. I was telling [Jhonatan] Solano today, ‘I cannot remember the names.’ After the bullpen, I talk to them a little bit. I know a couple names. The next day, I’m like, ‘I know that guy. I know I caught that guy. But I don’t know his name.’ ”
In the five days since the Nationals acquired him from Tampa Bay, and through three days of bullpen sessions and workouts for pitchers and catchers, Lobaton has started to make an impression. Pitchers who have thrown to him say they felt instantly comfortable. Drew Storen said Lobaton received his pitches with such ease it almost made him feel bad, as if they were too soft or didn’t move enough.
“I can’t really tell too much right away,” Jordan Zimmermann said. “He receives the ball good. It’s not like he’s calling pitches right now. He’s got pretty soft hands and a big frame, which I like.”
Lobaton prioritizes his work with the pitching, and he has started the process of learning new pitchers’ tendencies, if not their names. He chatted briefly with Zimmermann on Sunday after a bullpen session. He has also leaned on the Nationals’ other catchers. Lobaton likes to ask about a pitcher’s second pitch.
“Sometimes, there are only four guys throwing,” Lobaton said. “If I’m not catching in that moment, I ask [Sandy] Leon or [Wilson] Ramos, ‘What is he doing?’ I try to keep that in mind, so if I catch him next time. Maybe I won’t catch him in the bullpen, but I catch him in the game. So I can have something in mind.”
And soon, he hopes, he’ll know what to call everyone.
“I know some names,” Lobaton said. “Strasburg. Gio.”