Kurt Suzuki was thrilled to learn he’d be sharing the Washington Nationals’ catching duties with Yan Gomes again when Gomes and the Nats worked out a new 2-year/$10M deal after the veteran catcher’s $9M club option for 2020 was initially declined by the team.
Suzuki got his own 2-year/$10M the previous winter, which will pay him $6M this season.
Gomes, Suzuki told reporters at WinterFest earlier this month, contacted his teammate to let him know that he’d be back in D.C. before the new deal was announced.
“I was texting Yan,” Suzuki explained. “I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ the whole offseason, and then he FaceTimed me in November, it was actually Thanksgiving Day, he FaceTimed me and he said, ‘I’m coming back, brother.’ And I mean, I was like, ‘What a Thanksgiving, right?’ That was awesome. I said, ‘Hey, buddy, I’m getting old, I don’t know how many games I can catch, you better come back.’ But, beyond that, I think it’s just the relationship that we have, bouncing ideas off each other. Being two catchers that have been around for a while, and have been through the ups and downs, I think we keep each other level and we keep learning from each other, and I think it helps the [pitching] staff as well.”
Suzuki, 36, and Gomes, 32, started 160 of 162 games in the regular season in 2019, and they will, if healthy, likely handle the bulk of the catching duties again in 2020 as the Nats defend their World Series title.
Having multiple options behind the plate (and at other positions) was the plan for GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office last season and again this winter as they built up the roster.
“It’s by design that we give our manager flexibility to do what he feels comfortable with that given day,” Rizzo explained.
“It’s a long season,” he added, “we needed about 48 players last year to win the world title, and this thing takes a village, and it takes a lot of players, and you have to have great depth, and you have to have players that are willing to accept the challenge of being versatile, and using multiple lineups, and [manager] Davey [Martinez] has grown up in that atmosphere.”
“He did it last year with us a lot,” Rizzo added.
“Chicago was known for it, as was Tampa, so he’s very familiar with it, and the way he can manipulate lineups, and keep people fresh, I think you saw last year was masterful.”
“I think there are guys like Trea [Turner] and [Juan] Soto — that they better never take a day off,” Suzuki said.
“But for the guys that have been around, I think there’s something to say about that.
“I think the game for some reason has changed where a lot of the mental preparation, a lot of the physical — how long the season is, it takes a toll on you. You grind every night. After a game, you just want to lay down and do nothing. That’s how much it takes out of you, so I think being able to platoon and really conserve energy and rest guys, in the long-run it’s going to help and I think it showed where you see some guys now that platoon that have the best years of their career, you know, and I think a lot of it comes down to not having to grind mentally and physically every single day and to have that time to rest not just your body but your mind. Baseball is mental, and it says a lot to be able to rest your mind, that’s for sure.”
In his 13th major league campaign, Suzuki put up a .264/.324/.486 line with 11 doubles and 17 home runs in 85 games and 309 plate appearances, over which he was worth 0.6 fWAR.
He struggled with an elbow injury late in the regular season, and went just 3 for 30 at the plate in 10 postseason games, but one of the three hits was a home run in the Fall Classic, something Suzuki said he’d never forget.
The Game 2 blast broke up a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning of what ended up a 12-3 win for the Nationals in Minute Maid Park.
“It’s pretty surreal still,” Suzuki said.
“In the World Series, I still can’t believe I hit a homer in the World Series. And it’s amazing, and you know, it’s something that you can always say, ‘I hit a homer in the World Series to help the team win somehow, some way,’ and it’s pretty cool.”
Suzuki appeared in Game 3 of the Series as well, but a hip issue ended up keeping him out of the lineup the rest of the way, but a few months removed from the big win, the veteran’s 100% healthy and ready for the start of the 2020 campaign.
“A couple weeks, then I was pretty much back to normal,” Suzuki said of the time it took to recover.
“Hadn’t started working out for about a month after the season, and then when I started workouts, that was really the first test to be like, ‘Okay, how am I really feeling?’ you know, and everything went smoothly, it’s going great, feeling better, and now it’s just kind of preparing yourself for Spring Training.”
He also said that in spite of the issues, with his elbow specifically, he didn’t really feel the need to change things up as he prepares for his 14th big league campaign.
“Honestly,” Suzuki said, “it was just rest and just kind of do the same thing that I do every year to get ready for a season. Get ready, do my routine in Spring Training that I’ve been doing for the last  years and keep going.”
Looking back on it all, the fight to recover from a 19-31 start, the run to the postseason, the comeback wins throughout October, and the five wins on the road in the World Series, what were the takeaways from his and the Nationals’ big season?
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s even really sunk in yet,” Suzuki said.
“It’s been such a whirlwind. You wait your whole life for this opportunity and for it to happen and to be able to win the World Series, it’s crazy. It really is crazy. I’ve watched the video — I think more than a few times with my son and my family, and it’s the more you watch it the more it really starts sinking in like, ‘Wow, we did it, such a cool feeling.”
And the importance of beating the Houston Astros, who share the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches with the Nationals in West Palm Beach, FL?
“Oh man, I’m glad we won, that’s for sure,” Suzuki laughed.
“We share the complex, I thought about that too, I was like, man, that’s going to be weird if we lose, so winning made it a lot easier.”