Washington Nationals’ backstop Yan Gomes was behind the plate for Dakota Bacus, Seth Romero, and Wil Crowe’s MLB debuts earlier this month, and the 33-year-old, nine-year veteran told reporters this week that he wasn’t necessarily familiar with any of them but figured things out on the fly as each was called up from the club’s Alternate Training Site.
How do the catcher and his pitchers figure things out and go about attacking hitters when they haven’t worked together often or are working together for the first time?
“It’s a lot of communication that has to go into it, because a couple of these guys, I didn’t end up catching during Spring or even Summer camp or whatever you want to call it, so a lot of it has to do with learning while they’re warming up,” Gomes said.
“You get told what they have, but then you kind of see them warm up and you kind of start learning their stuff, and the future is really bright for some of these guys coming up.”
With MLB clubs pulling from their 60-Man Player Pools in this 60-game campaign, 145 have debuted already this season, and as is the case with the Nationals, there is a lot of work the clubs have to do to get their fielders, pitchers, and catchers on the same page as more and more players are called up to the big leagues for the first time.
“They’re learning on the run,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said of the Nationals’ pitchers and catchers in particular getting to know and trust one another.
“We’ve got two guys who have experience doing that, I mean ... it’s not the first time that Yan’s had to do that,” Martinez explained, referring to Gomes and the 36-year-old, 14-year veteran Kurt Suzuki.
“The biggest thing for me,” the manger said, “is having the pitchers communicate to them what they’re comfortable doing right away and then work with that.”
Rookie pitchers, as humbled and at times overwhelmed as they may be, have agency, and they know their stuff, so they have to assert themselves while also taking advice from their battery mates.
“They know what pitches they throw — but when they want to throw them, how they want to attack hitters,” Martinez said, “... and it’s important that our young pitchers communicate to our catchers that, ‘This is what I like doing, this is what I want to do,’ so they get an idea of what they want to do when they go out there. With that being said, when the game starts, I always tell all our young pitchers, ‘Hey, when the catchers put their fingers down, it’s a suggestion. That’s what that is. If you don’t feel comfortable throwing that pitch, then you throw what you feel comfortable throwing and just make a good pitch and they’ll understand.’
“‘As you guys get to working more and more together, they’ll know exactly what you want to do.’”
With injuries and issues in the rotation and bullpen, the Nationals have had to supplement their big league roster, and so far their manager likes the dynamic that he’s seen between the pitchers and the club’s catchers.
“With all these young guys, they’ve actually been doing a really good job in communicating with Zuk and Yan on what they want to do and how they want to attack hitters.
“And it’s been good. Like I said, it’s just about building that bond and that trust with one another and so far, it’s been really good.”
“Some of them are getting put in some good situations to learn from,” Gomes said, “and it’s exciting to see these young guys getting out there.”