Davey Johnson wasn't giving any hints as to which catcher will be starting on Opening Day in his appearance on ESPN 980's The Sports Fix before this afternoon's game. Hosts Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro asked, but the Washington Nationals' 70-year-old skipper went with a line that got a laugh last time he used it with reporters who asked earlier this Spring. Would it be 25-year-old Wilson Ramos catching Stephen Strasburg in Game 1 of 162 or 29-year-old former Oakland A's backstop Kurt Suzuki? "I'm, you know, leaning one way," Johnson said, "I'm not going to have to make that decision until we get through the game with the Yankees up in D.C. But either way I go I'm going to be a genius, because they're both great." He got a laugh again.
Maybe Bob Boone, the former major league catcher and current Nats' Assistant General Manager & Vice President of Player Development, would provide a hint? Mr. Boone appeared on ESPN's broadcast of today's Grapefruit League game and he was asked by his son (and ESPN analyst) Aaron Boone to break down the Nationals' two no.1 catchers. The veteran of 19 major league seasons didn't give anything away when it comes to Opening Day, but he did offer his own opinion on what each catcher has to offer.
"They're different players," the elder Boone said, "Suzuki's a terrific catcher, blocks the ball extremely well, handles the pitching staff extremely well. [He] came over here last year [and] really hit for us. Line drives. A lot of clutch base hits for us. Of course, Wilson is a star in-the-making, and has tremendous potential. [He] blew out his ligaments in his knee last year and has rehabbed diligently. We really, our reports when he came to Spring Training [were] that he probably wouldn't even be able to play for six weeks and he's been in there and he's done great. He's really starting to swing the bat. I think Davey's going to have a pleasant problem with both of them, but I think they're both going to play a lot and probably split time starting out and just see what happens."
Davey Johnson was quoted earlier this week saying that his two no.1s would split time at the start of the season. The plan at the start of Spring Training was to allow Ramos to work his way back slowly and go with Suzuki at the start of the season, but the quick recovery by the younger of the two catchers has already altered that scenario. "'I look at both pretty much being on equal footing going into the year right now,'" Johnson told reporters including CSN Washington's Mark Zuckerman.
As the NatsInsider and CSN reporter noted, however, when asked about Opening Day, Johnson wasn't budging:
"'They'll probably split the [final exhibition] game against the Yankees,' he said. 'And no, I'm not answering your next question.'"
Asked about the catchers in an MLB Network Radio interview earlier this Spring, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo left no doubt about which catcher was looked at as the long-term answer behind the plate. "We do see Ramos as the future behind the plate for us," Rizzo told the MLB Network Radio's Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette. "Zuk is a marvelous handler of the pitching staff. He's got an extremely high baseball IQ. He's an energy guy and an upbeat guy and we think that he's going to get back to the .265-.270, 12-13 HR guy that he was with Oakland. He's a guy that's not afraid to get a big hit in clutch situations and he's just been a great guy to have around."
"And we feel that we have great catching depth," the GM and Executive VP of Baseball Ops continued, "We've got two guys below in [Jhonatan] Solano and [Sandy] Leon below [Ramos and Suzuki] that we feel have a chance to be everyday catchers in the big league someday, so we feel fortified at that position."
As for which one of the two will be behind the plate on Opening Day? We'll have to wait until Davey Johnson's ready to tell everyone. My guess...? Wilson Ramos is rewarded for the hard work he did to return and Kurt Suzuki, or "Zuki" as Gio Gonzalez called him in his own interview on ESPN today, will catch his old friend in game no.2. Either way, the Nats' skipper will end up looking like a genius...
[waits for laughs]