Yan Gomes threw out two more runners on Friday night, after a leadoff walk by Washington Nationals’ starter Erick Fedde in the third, and a leadoff single in the fifth, taking two of the four leadoff men Fedde let on off the basepaths, and helping his pitcher through the seven scoreless innings he threw in what ended up a 1-0 win.
“It’s huge,” Fedde said of the help from his catcher. “I had a couple leadoff walks, might even have been three, but for him to get guys out like that, I mean, he’s been something else. Him, and my last couple starts with [Alex] Avila have been, those guys are just awesome with our pitching staff and we’re seeing the results, with — I think everyone is really throwing well, so I’m just thankful that we have those guys behind the plate, and any time we can get an out on the bases it’s just a huge relief.”
With the two runners caught stealing Friday night, Gomes had thrown out 14 of 34 would-be base stealers on the year, 41% CS%, up from 18% in 2020’s 60-game campaign, in which he threw out just 4 of 22 baserunners.
As of Saturday morning, Gomes, 33, led all of MLB’s catchers with his 14 runners caught stealing, and was 4th in the majors (and second in the NL) in CS%, behind the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina (47.1% CS%), Astros’ Martin Maldonado (45%), and Indians’ Austin Hedges (43.8%).
“We get to see him all the time,” teammate Ryan Zimmerman said on Friday night, “I feel like he’s a very underappreciated catcher in the league.
“A lot of the guys that get the attention deserve it, but you don’t really hear too much about [Gomes], and he works so well with all of our pitchers.
“He works hard, puts time in, throwing out guys has been unbelievable, and then obviously the last week, two weeks, whatever it’s been he’s been great at the plate too. So we get to see it every day, and it’s fun to watch. I’m just happy for him. He puts in a lot of hard work, and it’s good to see it kind of pay off and for him to have some success.”
Offensively in June, Gomes was 10 for 38 (.263/.300/.526) with a double and three home runs in 10 games and 40 plate appearances after Friday night’s game, leaving him with a .255/.291/.433 line overall, with five doubles and seven homers in 44 games and 165 PAs.
Gomes hit a single in Friday night’s game, driving in the only run of the game for either of the teams to win it in walk-off fashion in the nation’s capital.
“He’s been awesome,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And what he’s meant for this team, his leadership, and the way he controls our pitchers, he’s done a great job.
“I’m so happy for him to get that big hit for us. We were joking around before that at bat, I told him, I said, ‘You remember what your counterpart [Kurt Suzuki] did here a couple years ago when he hit a home run off against [Edwin] Díaz after like an 11-12 pitch at bat?’ And he started laughing and goes, ‘Yeah,’ and I said, ‘Just do it a little earlier today.’ And he came up with a big hit for us.”
Gomes’ thoughts as he watched the walk-off hit land in the left field grass?
“‘Praise the lord,’ that’s what I was thinking,” Gomes said. “Coming up against a guy like that you’re just really just trying to get something up, out, over, just something where you trying not to do too much. That guy can get you to look kind of silly at the plate, but I was starting to see his fastball pretty decent, took a couple pitches, which, usually when that is happening, maybe I got his timing down or at least I feel more comfortable and after that, the ball kind of sailed back up the middle and got a good piece of the bat on it.”
While he has contributed at the plate, it’s behind the dish where Gomes is making a big impact this season. What changed from last year to take him from an 18% to a 41% CS%?
“I just think last year just wasn’t working,” Gomes said.
“Once you start getting into that thought process where you’re not throwing runners out, you’re trying to do too much, and I felt like that’s what I was doing, because I was short-hopping a lot of guys. Now it’s just a matter of trusting our guys up the middle, just giving them — if anything a decent throw and let them put a tag on, not trying to do too much.”
A reporter asked if he focused on building arm strength over the winter as he tried to focus on that aspect of his game.
“I think I said this before, me, [Bullpen Coach] Henry [Blanco], and a couple other guys here, we kind of just tried to look at what was working, and then we kind of worked on it a little bit earlier in the year, and then we kind of know what to go back to when things — my ball is sailing or I’m coming short or things like that.”
His manager said the pitchers have also played a part in helping Gomes and Avila control other teams’ running games, after the club struggled to keep opposing runners in check last season.
“It was the pitchers had to be quicker,” Martinez said. “I mean, really, it comes down to pitchers holding runners a little better, mixing in a slide step. Ultimately just giving our catchers a chance to throw people out and they’ve done that, they’ve done that really well. They’ve mixing their holds so guys can’t time them, and they’re giving Yan and Alex a chance to get a good pitch and throw guys out and they’ve been really good. Yan has been really, really good, he’s getting rid of the ball quick and I know that him and Henry worked a lot this spring on just his release and getting a little quicker, and he’s about as good as I’ve seen him this year so far.”
“He’s staying on his legs a lot better than he has been,” Martinez added in discussing some changes Gomes made in terms of his throwing, arm angle, etc before Saturday’s games.
“That was the biggest thing with Henry, wanted to get him to stay a little lower and drive the ball, and he has. What’s funny about it he was so quick yesterday he didn’t even use his legs, I mean, he threw the ball from his knees basically, but because he was able to get his hands up so quick, I mean, he was able to put enough on his throw, and if you watch him he kind of finished out front, which is what you want for a catcher.”
The arm strength on that one was impressive.
“He’s been good,” Martinez said. “Like him and Henry throw almost every day, and he works on his footwork. And his transfer has been so much quicker this year than it has been.”
The jump from 18% to 41%, Martinez explained, is a result of hard work, yes, but also, as he reiterated, the work the Nationals’ pitchers have done.
“I truly believe that the spike in percentage is the fact that we’ve spent a lot of time on talking to our pitchers about really paying attention — especially the guys who can run — and changing their looks, changing their delivery to the plate. Being quicker. I think that’s helped a lot.”