Reporters in the nation’s capital noticed that during yesterday’s workouts in Nationals Park, there were only two catchers on the playing field, and neither of them was Yan Gomes or Alex Avila. So, yeah, given the club’s situation, with eleven players total (four of whom tested positive for COVID-19, and seven of whom ended up in quarantine after contact tracing), unavailable for now, that minor league deal with free agent Jonathan Lucroy that was announced over the weekend starts to make a lot more sense.
Raudy Read (26) and Tres Barrera (23), who have played a combined 16 games in the majors between them (with just three starts, all by Read), were both in D.C. on Monday, working out with the team, but from what manager Davey Martinez and today’s Opening Day starter Max Scherzer both said in advance of the season opener, it sure sounds like it will be Lucroy who gets the nod against the Atlanta Braves.
Lucroy, 34, signed a minor league deal with the Nationals, and the club can use a rule which allows them to place him on their 40-Man roster if he is replacing someone who ends up on the COVID-IL, to add him to the roster when/if he’s cleared to play.
Max Scherzer, Beautiful 83mph Changeup. pic.twitter.com/6ejBwEiXzz— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 15, 2021
“We’re waiting for his saliva test to pass, and once he does that he’ll be with us,” Martinez said in his pre-Opening Day Zoom call with reporters yesterday.
Would they really just throw him right in and have Lucroy catch Scherzer without having worked with him before?
“We’re waiting on Jonathan,” Martinez explained. “I had conversations with him. So as soon as he gets his saliva test, which we’re hoping it’s soon, we’ll let you know.”
Lucroy signed as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox this winter, but he asked for and was granted his release when he realized he wasn’t going to make the Sox’ roster after the 11-year veteran went 6 for 18 (.333/.478/.389) with a double, five walks, and one strikeout in Spring Training.
Now he will, potentially, catch Max Scherzer on Opening Day in D.C. this afternoon.
“It’s definitely going to be challenging,” Martinez said. “He’s known Max for years. Obviously he hasn’t caught him, but he’s talked to Max already, he’s going to have a conversation with [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey this afternoon and go over the game plan. But you’re talking about a veteran catcher that’s caught multiple, multiple people, so for me I think he’s going to be fine. We talked to Max, and Max is good with it. He knows Jonathan. He knows he’s a good catcher, so I’m sure they’re going to work good together.”
Max Scherzer, Nasty 91mph Cutter. ✂️ pic.twitter.com/lcxQr5b3D5— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 15, 2021
Scherzer hasn’t worked with any of the three catchers who appear to be a possibility for the season opener, so whichever way they go, he’ll be working with a new backstop.
So how does the process of quickly getting on the same page work?
“Basically have the conversation tomorrow,” Scherzer said when he spoke to reporters in advance of his sixth Opening Day start in seven seasons in D.C.
“Come in here early, prepare a little bit harder. Have the conversation. I never really try to get stuck into, ‘I only throw to one catcher.’ I don’t like that mentality. I like to be able to think that I can throw to anybody, and that any type of catcher I can always work with and be able to go out there and get on the same page with and basically win the game with. So, whoever it is tomorrow, that’s great, we’ll do our work and compete at our highest.”
Scherzer has talked previously about it taking half a season to get properly in sync with a new backstop. But hey, to paraphrase what Scherzer said of the club’s approach to the roster they’re starting the season with after eleven players were placed in quarantine last week, (four following positive tests for COVID-19, and seven via contact tracing), suck it up, you have some video, a few hours before the 4:05 PM matchup with the Nationals’ NL East rivals, and you go.
“Yeah. It is what it is,” Scherzer said. “There’s no other way to do it. We’ll have our meeting tomorrow and that will be that.”
“We got him what he needed to watch video on Max and he’s got all the prep work for the Atlanta Braves,” Martinez added.
Max Scherzer, 95mph Fastball, 83mph Slider and 83mph Changeup, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/7nr4uJdkyt— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 15, 2021
“Like I said this is a guy that’s a veteran guy, that understands that position very well.
“We’re excited that we were able to pick him up. He’s looking forward to it. Right now he’s biting at the bit to get his results back and hopefully get ready for tomorrow.
Scherzer ... is ready. He was scheduled to start last Thursday’s planned season opener before it was postponed following the team’s positive COVID tests.
So he’s now been off since he last threw in an intrasquad game in West Palm Beach, FL on March 27th. His teammate, Ryan Zimmerman, who was joking, obviously, considering that the circumstances which kept them apart were potentially life-threatening, said that it was probably a good thing that the club wasn’t able to gather together until Sunday as they all waited to get cleared to return to workouts in Nationals Park.
“That was probably better that nobody was able to be around [Scherzer]. He would have been terrible to be around,” Zimmerman said with a laugh.
“He’s hardly bearable with regular five days ... so ten days would have been miserable. But, yeah, I mean, I can see Max just going out in his own backyard and throwing a baseball to nobody. Just to make sure he’s ready. I think he’ll be ready to go, he’ll be fired up as usual.
“We’ve talked about him, and how much fun it is to play behind him, the energy he brings every five days, just the special type of pitcher he is to watch and it’s fun.
“Every time he makes his start you never know what you’re going to see.
“And I think he works his tail off to make sure he’s ready every five days, I’ve seen him pitch through some injuries, some tough situations, so I don’t really worry about him not being able to handle something like this.
“But it will be good to see him out on the mound for another Opening Day start, and yeah, I’m just as excited to watch him as you guys are every time he goes out there.”
Scherzer is definitely excited to get out there, and eventually get everyone healthy and back with the club.
“Just an unfortunate situation but that’s what we’ve dealt with over the past year of playing through this pandemic,” the 36-year-old, 13-year veteran said of the delayed start to the ‘21 season for the Nationals.
“Be ready for the unexpected,” he said. “As soon as you think you have something nailed down it’s going to be pulled out from underneath you. You just got to take this in stride, understand what’s going on, respect all the decisions that had to be made, and I think we made the best decision to play tomorrow, so that’s all I can do. I get the ball tomorrow. I’m happy.”