Newly acquired catcher brings defensive help
The Nationals did not want to add another catcher. But ever since Wilson Ramos tore his ACL on May 12, the organization waited and waited for backup Jesus Flores' bat to come around, and for his defense to improve.
It just wasn't happening. So enter Kurt Suzuki, acquired last Friday in a trade with the Oakland A's and immediately installed as the starter. Suzuki was not in the starting lineup on Tuesday against the Houston Astros -- he's earned the nod from manager Davey Johnson twice in the first four games since arriving in town on Saturday. But he will be the primary catcher the rest of the season and there isn't much time to get up to speed as Suzuki learns his new pitching staff on the fly. That's really all that the Nats expect from him. Suzuki has a reputation as a strong defensive player and someone who can communicate well with his pitchers. He's only 28 but has the presence of a veteran.
"I'm a guy that I like to keep it loose and have fun. My biggest thing is having fun," Suzuki said. "And the veteran presence, maybe a situation you can defuse it by going out there and calming them down, having fun. It's just working well and getting to know the pitching staff's personalities to kind of know what you have to do at what situation."
It will be a challenge to do so in the middle of a pennant race. Suzuki did catch Washington starter Gio Gonzalez when they were both with the A's. He even caught the first game Gonzalez ever pitched in the majors. But he will need to learn the others -- Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler, Stephen Strasburg and whoever replaces Strasburg in the rotation when he is shut down for the season. Each has his own style of pitching, running instructions from the coaching staff.
During Monday's game against Houston, Suzuki needed to calm reliever Drew Storen, who was struggling with his control in the eighth inning and upset at some of the calls being made by the home-plate umpire. But what button do you push with a guy you just met on Saturday? That kind of information is being processed daily.
"The quicker the better, I guess, right? But I already kind of do scouting reports," Suzuki said. "I already did it [Saturday], kind of do my routine that I do in Oakland, but just do it here. ... The quicker we get on the same page the better we'll be."
On Saturday, Suzuki was behind the plate for his first game and Zimmermann -- so consistent, so good all season -- was struggling. But Suzuki had no reference point. He's never even faced Zimmermann at the plate.
"But it's the same language. You only have five fingers you're putting down," Johnson said. "It's generally location. That part of it won't be too difficult. He'll get an opportunity, in due time, to see everybody."