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Washington Nationals’ catchers Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes give Davey Martinez options

How will the Nationals decide which catcher gets the most starts? Will Davey Martinez really ignore the conventional wisdom about not using your backup catcher to pinch hit?

Screencap via @Nationals on Twitter

In just the first few days of Spring Training, with pitchers and catchers working in bullpen sessions, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez has been impressed with the two new backstops who joined the roster this winter.

Kurt Suzuki, who signed a 2-year/$10M deal, and Yan Gomes, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians, are hard at work getting to know their new teammates, though that is going to take some time.

“They’re veteran catchers, both of those guys that they brought in,” Patrick Corbin said this week, as he too got used to his new team, “... so I think it will be fairly easy for them to pick up what we have, and I’m excited for them to be behind the plate all season for us.”

Suzuki is already playing along with Max Scherzer, suggesting hitters for the Nationals’ ace to imagine himself facing when he works on stuff in his early Spring throwing sessions, and Martinez said on Friday that the way they communicate with all the pitchers is impressive.

“It’s incredible,” the second-year skipper said. “Just the first two days, just listening to those guys talk, man, the communication has been outstanding. And I told our young pitchers, I said, ‘Hey, learn, speak, ask questions, those guys have caught some really good pitchers in their history, so you can learn a lot [from] them. What you want to do with your curveball, what you want to do with your fastball, where do you think I can throw the ball, or against lefties, against righties, and they’ve been phenomenal, I mean, they love communicating, as you could tell, you saw it, Suzuki, after it was over, he pretty much ran out to Austin [Voth], and said, ‘Hey, man, great job. This is what you do, this is how your curveball plays, and this is what I think you should do with your fastball,’ and it was tremendous to hear him talk about it.”

How the Nationals plan to use the two catchers has been a topic of conversation since the trade for Gomes, and the answer Martinez gave when asked again this week was similar to what he’s said previously.

“It’s good to have them both,” he said, “and I explained to them both — they’re both going to play equally an amount, but we’ll see how it plays out.

“Obviously, your starting pitchers are going to dictate — maybe one guy likes throwing — they work better with one certain catcher, we’ll see how that all plays out, but they’re both exceptional. I don’t think we’re going to lose anything with either one of them playing, so that’s good to have.”

The conversation about how often each will play is one that the Nationals’ skipper said will be sorted out as the season goes along.

“When we talked to them and we signed Kurt and then we [acquired] Yan,” Martinez said, “it was a conversation that we all had. They’re both going to catch, and their value to our team is ... incredible, especially with our starting pitching. They’re both going to play a lot and they understand that. How we work it? We’ll figure that out.

“We’ll figure all that stuff out,” he said, “but they’re on board with everything, and like I said, what a treat to listen to those guys talk with the pitchers and converse and communicate. It’s been outstanding.”

With two catchers like Suzuki and Gomes, Martinez said on Saturday, who are an offensive upgrade over what they’ve had in recent seasons, he’s started to think about how he’ll use them when they start and on the days they aren’t behind the plate.

“You see a lot of teams — you don’t have those guys that can catch 150 games anymore, 160 games, you don’t,” Martinez explained, “so to have two guys like that on your roster, it’s a really good problem to have and we’ll figure out what days they’re going to start, and even the days they don’t start, look, you know I really believe — a lot of people talk about not [putting your second catcher in the game] because your first catcher might get hurt. We’ve got two pretty good-hitting catchers, so the days they don’t play, they might pinch hit in the seventh [or] eighth inning if we have a chance to score some runs.”

“You look at all the numbers, I don’t really see catchers getting really hurt in the games like that,” Martinez said, knocking on wood on the desk and then his head, “I really don’t. And I explained that to them. ‘There are days when you don’t catch, but don’t just sit there, I’m not going to be one of those guys — if we have a chance to score some runs, and you’re the best available pinch hitter we’ve got, or if I feel the need to pinch hit you guys, you’re going to pinch hit.”

Martinez said it’s something he started thinking about at the end of the 2018 campaign.

“I thought about it last year at the end. When [Matt] Wieters wasn’t really being able to catch and he was on the bench, I said, ‘Hey, you know what, he’s going to hit.’ It’s a good spot for him we let him hit, and I thought all winter, just because you have two catchers and one guy’s playing and you don’t want the other guy to play, I said, ‘You might as well just play with 24 guys, really. So why not use him in the right opportunity?’

And the emergency catcher in the event that something goes wrong if he does try that?

“I’ll have to talk to [Wilmer] Difo about that,” Martinez said with a laugh.