Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki shared the catching duties (pretty much exclusively) in 2019-20, but the Washington Nationals let Suzuki walk this past offseason, and signed a veteran, Alex Avila, to handle the backup duties in D.C. Gomes said early in Spring Training he knew Avila about as well as he’d known Suzuki before both ended up with the Nationals, from playing against the one-time Detroit Tigers’ backstop when both were in the AL Central, but he was looking forward to getting to know him better.
“As soon as we signed him I tried to get in contact with him,” Gomes said, “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,” he added. “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.”
A few weeks into Spring Training, how has the relationship developed?
“It’s gotten really bad. I don’t know...” Gomes joked. But really?
“No. It’s been tremendous. We’ve gotten even closer. Like I said before, we’ve known each other for a while. Now it’s just getting that friendship going.
“He’s an awesome guy to talk to I’ve always respected him from the other side, and I’m super-pumped to get to work with him more.”
What, if anything, has he been able to glean from Avila, who has history with Max Scherzer from their time together in Detroit, with Jon Lester from time they both spent in Chicago, and Patrick Corbin, who he worked with in Arizona?
“I think it just goes with how — from working with some of our pitchers — it doesn’t come down — I mean, we can put numbers on the table and it’s, yeah, you can work with that,” Gomes explained, “but I think it goes down to like a communication, and what are the key points that you’ve used with getting a point across to Scherzer, to Jon, and even to Pat [who] he caught in Arizona. But mainly it’s just building that relationship and letting our starting staff know that Alex and I are talking, we do communicate. We’ve already had a pretty good communication of just learning, or wanting to better our pitchers.”
In nine games this spring heading into Wednesday’s matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals, Gomes was 8 for 24 at the plate (.333/.407/.375), with a double, two walks, and eight Ks.
Overall, he said, he feels good, but there is still stuff to work on moving forward.
“Spring is spring, but you kind of try to pinpoint a couple different things,” Gomes said.
“Whether you’re feeling good or you’re not feeling good at the plate, those are things that you want to pay attention to, and kind of just communicate at bats with [hitting coach] Kevin Long or [assistant hitting coach] Pat [Roessler].
“Just so we can communicate when the season starts speeding up, but right now for sure definitely feeling good at the plate, but mainly it’s just the feeling of being out there and working some at bats and staying relaxed is something that we’re communicating with our hitting coaches.”
Gomes, who put up a .284/.319/.468 line with six doubles and four home runs in 30 games and 119 plate appearances in 2020’s 60-game season, playing in empty ballparks, said he’s enjoyed having fans back in the stands this spring, and he’s looking forward to 5,000 fans in Nationals Park for Opening Day.
“Well 5,000 fans is going to better than no fans at least,” he said, “... and hopefully they are all going to be ours, so they’re going to be cheering for us, and either way it’s a step in the right direction.”