From the start this winter, the Washington Nationals have been clear about their preference for having Yan Gomes catch the majority of the games in 2021, after two seasons of he and Kurt Suzuki sharing backstop duties in the nation’s capital, and as manager Davey Martinez explained on Day 1 of Spring Training, the club’s brass believes Gomes will benefit from the increased workload.
“I talked to Yan this winter,” Martinez said, “without having Suzuki back here, about playing more. We ran some numbers and it seems like the more he plays the better he hits, and his at bats get better.”
Gomes put up a .284/.319/.468 line, six doubles, and four home runs in 30 games and 119 plate appearances in a 0.2 fWAR, 60-game campaign in 2020, which saw him start 0 for 13 in his first four games, but hit in 10-straight between August 10th and 30th, going 16 for 41 (.390/.419/.683) in that stretch.
After the first four games of the season, Gomes put up a .323/.346/.531 line over his final 26 games and 104 PAs.
The 33-year-old, nine-year veteran said it’s fairly obvious, but it’s easier to sort things out at the plate given regular at bats.
“I mean, I think everyone can attest to that,” Gomes said when he spoke to reporters from West Palm Beach, FL on Saturday.
“I think consistency is a big part of this game, and when I do get more consistent at bats I do feel like I — whether it’s a little bit more calm when not every game you’re trying to earn playing time or something like that, I don’t think that’s kind of like how it was last year. But I feel like, in a competitive way it’s going to feel that way. It’s just something that from — you’re able to make easier adjustments instead of just doing it one day and then waiting a couple days to go make that adjustment that you’ve been working on. You’re able to get instant feedback right away.
“I feel like that’s kind of the reason.”
Gomes said he is embracing the challenge of taking on more of a No. 1 catcher’s role this season after sharing the starts evenly with Suzuki in 2019-20.
“I was obviously excited about it,” he said of the news he got from Martinez. “It’s something that I’ve done in the past. That was kind of my job in Cleveland.
“I go into the offseason the same way I go every offseason, especially this one, going into prepping myself to catch as many games as I can.
“Maybe this offseason I tried to come in a little lighter with the expected workload, but I’m ready to go.
“I know Davey is going to do what he has to do to get as many games as he can for me, but we’ve got a good veteran with [Alex] Avila, so it’s going to be a fun time.”
Martinez said the feedback he’s received from his starters is that they like working with the veteran catcher, and he’s been impressed with the work Gomes puts in going into each of his outings.
“What I love about Yan is his preparation. He takes catching serious,” the manager said.
“He takes control of our pitchers, and he loves to communicate with those guys every day on a daily basis. And he’s a gamer, man. He’s a winner.
“I talked a lot to him this winter, and told him he would get the bulk of the catching this year, and I want him to handle the pitching staff, and he’s all up for it.”
“We did a lot of stuff with him over the winter,” he added, “... as far as how much he should play, and I think that he can handle 5-6 times a week out there.
“With that being said, we also picked up some veteran catchers in Alex Avila and Welington Castillo, but I’d love Yan to be able to go out there and catch as much as possible.”
They will, however, listen to Gomes and handle the catcher carefully.
“Obviously we want to keep him healthy for the whole year,” Martinez said. “Having Alex here, and Welington Castillo, those two guys will fight for the backup job. But I feel like in talking to [Gomes] at the end of last year, not knowing if Suzuki was going to come back or not, but I’ve always said that I wanted him to get the bulk of the games. [I’m not] saying catch every day, but in this day and age if he catchers four or five times a week, that’s sufficient.
“We’ve definitely got to keep an eye on his workload. What I like is he handles our pitching staff really well, and the conversation he has with these guys, they really love throwing to him. So, we’re going to give him every opportunity to go out there and catch as much as possible, but he’s smart. If he needs a day off or we deem that he needs a day off, I’ll talk about it, and we’ll give him that day, but all winter long I’ve spoken to him and I’ve told him, I said, ‘Hey, you’re going to get the bulk of the catching. And you’re going to let me know when you need a day here and there.’ And obviously we play day games after night games, so he won’t catch those games, but for the most part, if he can handle it, he’ll be out there.”
Gomes said he’s ready for the challenge.
“I do better when I’m catching consistently,” he reiterated.
“So it’s not like ramping up, not playing. I had to kind of try to get used to that last year, my body still felt great, but I don’t think it’s something that’s going to be new to my body.
“I’ve done it before, and my body actually usually feels better that way.”