As soon as Alex Avila signed his 1-year/$1.5M deal with the Washington Nationals back on February 3rd, his new teammates started reaching out to the 34-year-old, 12-year veteran, reconnecting or introducing themselves to the club’s new backup catcher.
“As soon as we signed him I tried to get in contact with him,” fellow backstop Yan Gomes told reporters earlier this month, “and just kind of get to know him, kind of get that little awkward stage of the first week of spring out of the way.
“I feel like we’ve kind of hit it off right away. We knew what our job is supposed to be like, we have a tremendous pitching staff, and I look forward to bouncing ideas off of him.”
“I was able to talk with Yan about him,” Patrick Corbin said. Corbin threw to Avila 14 times while they were both in Arizona in 2018.
“Yan doesn’t know him,” Corbin explained. “So I said he would fit in well with this group. A veteran guy behind the plate who will do anything you ask for and I think he’s just another good piece to add to this group. A guy that I’ve thrown to, I think Max [Scherzer] has thrown to him as well. Whenever you have a catchers that you’ve thrown to like that it definitely helps, and it will be a quick adjustment for him to come in and learn the staff.”
Max Scherzer worked with Avila 107 times when they were both in Detroit between 2010-14, and he told reporters earlier this spring that he’s looking forward to catching up with one of the catchers who helped him to the first of his three Cy Young awards (2013).
“This is going to be fun,” Scherzer said. “‘Cause Alex really saw me develop, and he was really back there calling how the game was back in kind of 2012-14.
“The game has evolved since then. It’s going to be great to get back with him and things that have happened over the past six years, from his vantage point being across a couple teams, of understanding how the game has changed from his perspective, and how he’s made adjustments to it. And from my vantage point of how I’ve seen the game change and what I’ve had to do to kind of combat it.”
Scherzer has added two Cy Young awards to his resume since he and Avila two worked together with the Tigers, but the veteran right-hander didn’t seem to think it would take long to get back up to speed.
“[It’s] getting on the same page,” Scherzer said.
“That’s where once we start throwing bullpens and games and really getting back into the flow of things, that’s going to be the fun part, is to see how much we’ve grown together kind of being away from each other and now getting back and seeing, ‘Hey, this is how we’re going to attack guys now.’
“‘This is now how we want to set guys up and how we think about the game.’
“It’s going to be different. So that’s the fun part of this. I had Alex all those years in Detroit, we did some great things together, but now it’s kind of a different ballgame, and how we’re going to react to that is a challenge. And it’s a challenge I welcome.”
Avila caught Jon Lester, who signed on with the Nationals this winter as well, just twice back in 2017 when both were with the Chicago Cubs, but he made a strong impression on the 15-year veteran.
“I like how prepared he is,” Lester said, in his first interview with the D.C. press corps at his new Spring Training home in West Palm Beach, FL this week.
“I don’t know how much you guys have seen him or not, but when you watch him you know that his heart rate isn’t going too fast.
“He’s always calm, he’s always — I’m trying to think of the right way to say this — but it’s kind of like — he gives you that easy feeling, you know what I’m saying, I guess kind of eases your nerves a little bit when you’re out there kind of going a little fast. I like that. Like I said, how prepared he is, he’s kind of like that quiet leader back there. He does a good job with all the report stuff, and he’s just a good dude to be around. I think that adds to it as well.”
Is Avila’s calm, calming? Does his demeanor help his pitchers stay calm on the mound?
“I think it’s just his demeanor rubs off on you a little bit,” Lester said.
“On your start days you can get going a little fast, your mind can start going, and just the way he moves and the way he kind of just goes about his business I think helps slow you down as well.
“And then like I said, just the way he goes about his game-calling, the game-calling has a methodical-ness about it that keeps you locked in to what you’re trying to do, pitching every pitch.”
“It’s something that I’ve always — it’s just kind of my personality,” Avila said when asked about Lester’s comments about his calming influence.
“I’m not really ever in a hurry or get too high or too low. I’ve always kind of had that kind of mentality, that speed, but I think over the years, as I’ve gained experience. You also know as a veteran player that when you’re struggling you’re never too far away from getting back on track, and as a team, losing streaks and winning streaks are going to come and go, and it’s a matter of being able to have an understanding of not trying to ride that roller coaster sometimes the season can put you on, because in my experience, typically when you start riding that roller coaster, you dig yourself in a deep hole, whether that’s personally or as a team. And so that is what I try to at least bring, is a sense of perspective for guys, and also for the team, that it’s a long season and that’s something to understand. I don’t think that’s any different than kind of the mentality that this team has had anyway in the past — with [manager] Davey [Martinez] being here. He’s very much like that and understands that 162 games is a long season and you need to have perspective on the whole season and kind of have the big picture in mind as you’re going through it.”
Did he just calm you down too? Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said on Wednesday that the history Avila has with the pitchers he’s worked with before is obviously a benefit.
“It’s really nice,” Martinez told reporters after the second day of full-squad workouts.
“He’s another veteran guy that I’ve known. He handles the pitching staff really well. He had Max, Corbin both when they were young, and he’s very familiar with what they do and what they want to do. So it’s kind of nice to bring a guy in that’s actually had experience with some of our starting pitchers and our bullpen guys. So he’s excited to be able to reunite with these guys and start catching them.”
Avila’s also excited about getting to know the pitchers he hasn’t crossed paths with when he is behind the plate.
“The best thing is actually just catching them live in pens and then now over the course of this week in live bullpens, live BP. That’s the best way,” Avila said.
“Some of these guys I had some video work on, just to see as far as what they do. But the best part is actually just catching them physically. I’ve been doing that a lot since we got here in camp. Catching two or three guys a day, getting the reps in with those guys, and then just having a conversation afterwards. Typically, what we’ll do is after they throw off the mound that day, whether it’s live BP or just a regular bullpen, just kind of discuss that, the whole side, and the 10-15 minutes that we’re working there.
“And from there you just take it to the next day. And then hanging out, and just being a good teammate while we’re not on the field and just hanging out and getting to know everybody on a personal level.
“It’s part of the process, it takes a little time, but it’s also a lot of fun.”