Looking Through the Bullpen:
In Davey Martinez’s first season in D.C. in 2018, 32-year-old Matt Wieters, 24-year-old Pedro Severino, and 27-year-old Spencer Kieboom shared the bulk of the catching duties, then it was a couple years with a 31-to-32-year-old Yan Gomes and a 35-to-36-year-old Kurt Suzuki handling the Nationals’ pitchers in 2019-20. Gomes returned in 2021, and handled most of the work behind the plate before he was traded in late July, and Keibert Ruiz, acquired from LA at the deadline, spent a month at Triple-A, then came up and caught 23 games down the stretch so the 23-year-old prospect could prepare to take over the No. 1 catching duties this season.
This year, the Nationals are preparing to have Ruiz and 25-year-old catcher Riley Adams, who was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays last summer, as their catching duo, part of their organizational reboot/youth movement. So, what gives them the confidence that it can work with the relatively young and inexperienced (at least in the majors) duo? That’s real confidence that they can handle the pitchers, and contribute offensively.
“You saw what Keibert did last year,” Martinez said, of Ruiz’s run in the majors, which saw him go 21 for 66 (.318/.392/.455) with three doubles and two home runs over a total of 74 plate appearances in September and October ... after he started 2 for 15 in the first four games after he was called up.
“He struggled with the bat a little bit, but rumor had it, and we kept eyes on him in Triple-A — when he was in Triple-A, the pitchers loved throwing to him and they said that he really commanded the game back there, and the conversations that they had with him, they felt comfortable throwing to him.”
Ruiz was the “main cog” in the deal with the Dodgers, (which sent both rental Max Scherzer and a year and a half of Trea Turner to LA), in GM Mike Rizzo’s words, and he jumped right in after joining the organization, first at Triple-A, then in the majors.
“When we got him, I mean, he right away got all the information he needed for every one of our pitchers,” Martinez explained, “... studied them, watched videos on them, so, you know, that — to me only tells me how much he wants to help our pitching staff.
“So these guys, they embraced him and they love throwing to him and Riley Adams as well.”
The manager, who is headed into his fifth season on the bench in the nation’s capital, loved what he saw as both catchers got familiar with their new teammates and each other in their time together over the final month-plus last year.
“These two guys sat together a lot, and talked a lot, in the clubhouse, on the field. You always saw these guys together talking about handling the pitching staff and what they need to do and who we’re facing and how we can get quick outs, so I really believe that with the experience they got last year that they’re going to be fine back there.
“And there’s a separation for those guys, they know how much pride and effort we put into our pitching staff, and handling the pitching staff, and then when they come up to hit they know they have a job to do, both of them, so I’m looking forward to watching these guys. Both. I mean, they’re both going to get an opportunity to play. Keibert is probably going to get more, but Riley Adams is going to get some playing time as well.”
Asked if there was any thought of adding a veteran backstop to the mix this winter, to help like Alex Avila did down the stretch last season, or if the presence of a former big league catcher like Henry Blanco in the Nats’ dugout (as the Catching & Strategy Coach after he’d helped catchers as the Bullpen Coach during the first four of Martinez’s seasons with the club), would help support Ruiz and Adams, Martinez said he thought Blanco could make a big difference.
“I put a lot of faith in Henry Blanco. I mean, Henry has done it,” Martinez said. “He was one of the best at it when he caught, so he’s done a lot of work with both of them. I know that Keibert spent some time with him before the lockout. Quite a lot of time, actually, and they worked out and they were working on a lot of different things.
“So, I know they have a special relationship together.
“Riley Adams has been with [Blanco] now this Spring Training, and they’re talking through some stuff and he’s been working with him, so I got all the confidence in the world in Henry.
“For me, this is why we brought Henry in the dugout, so that he can help these guys throughout the game, whether it’s game-calling, whether it’s just setting up, and just keeping a close eye on them, so he’s right there, and he’s not trying to look through the bullpen.”
Cruz Likes To Play:
Nelson Cruz has played 970 games in the outfield in his 17-year career, and one game at first base, but since 2017, he’s played just 10 games in the field, serving as a designated hitter for the majority of the time over that stretch.
That doesn’t mean that the 41-year-old is not still interested in trying.
“I always want to play the field, we’ll see what happens, I’ll be ready just in case they make the call,” he joked with reporters in his first press conference as part of his new team.
“I had a chance to play first last year for the first time in my career, I was ready just in case that happened.”
He got his work in on Thursday as well, taking grounders on his first day with the team after signing a 1-year/$15M deal earlier this week.
“It was kind of long, but it fun,” he said of the first workout. “I was playing first [base], joking around with [Josh] Bell and other guys.
“It was nice to finally be on the field and do what I love.”
His new manager said he was fine with whatever process Cruz has to keep himself sharp and on the field, or more accurately in the lineup, since he probably won’t play the field.
“For me, I told him nothing changes, you have a routine, do what you do, and he says he likes to take ground balls over at first,” Davey Martinez said. “Every now and then he might go out in the outfield and shag some balls just to keep himself loose, and I told him I said, ‘Hey, whatever you need, we’re here to help you, so don’t change anything, you tell us what you need and we’re going to accommodate you the best we can. But he was good, and actually he looked good over there [at first] and I started scratching my head and said, ‘Hey, you never know,’ and he started laughing.”
When Cruz posted a pic of his new locker in the Nationals’ clubhouse in West Palm Beach, FL, former Baltimore Oriole Adam Jones noticed the veteran DH had his glove with him.
We’ll just post the exchange below for your enjoyment:
What’s that glove doing in the locker Gente ahhaha— 10 (@SimplyAJ10) March 16, 2022
1st base grounders coming up— Nelson Cruz (@ncboomstick23) March 16, 2022