Catching Corps in D.C.:
Early this spring we asked Davey Martinez how confident he was going with two relatively young catchers in Keibert Ruiz (23) and Riley Adams (25) as the catching duo in D.C. with both at the start of their respective big league careers.
In previous seasons, the Nationals had veterans behind the plate, with Matt Wieters, or Kurt Suzuki, and Yan Gomes handling catching duties for the club before they went with a youth movement.
Ruiz, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, and Adams, acquired from Toronto’s Blue Jays, shared catching duties down the stretch last September, and Martinez and Co. in the Nationals’ front office apparently saw enough to make them comfortable going forward with the two of them handling the pitching staff.
“These two guys sat together a lot, and talked a lot, in the clubhouse, on the field,” Martinez said in mid-March. “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.”
Six weeks in? Martinez said he thought Ruiz and Adams were doing just fine when he talked about the club’s catching before the series finale with the New York Mets in D.C.
“For me it’s about sticking the process, and teaching them the little things,” the fifth-year skipper explained. “The biggest thing for me, as I tell them all the time is, ‘As a big league catcher, you need to learn how to handle the pitching staff. That’s your No. 1 goal.’ And I said, “For me, you’re the captain, you’re the guys that see all. You’re at the field at a different perspective. You should know each and every hitter, that comes in that we face, and how to attack them.’ And I said, ‘It’s a process, and you’ve got to have a routine. Not every routine is the same for each guy, but you got to come up with your own routine,’ which they’ve done, and honestly, having [Catching and Strategy Coach] Henry [Blanco] with them and Henry in the dugout, he’s been great for those guys and he’s constantly communicating with those guys, and what he’s seeing and what needs to transpire after every game and whether it’s the next day or even after the game, he breaks things down that he sees, and it’s a teaching moment, it’s a learning moment, for Keibert and Riley both, but they’ve been good, and you can see that they’re getting better and better each and every day.”
What is it about the two backstops that’s allowed them to handle the duties so early in their respective careers? Martinez suggested it is their willingness to listen and learn things they don’t already know.
“They’re very open-minded about everything,” he said. “They don’t have — they listen better than they speak. As you know, Keibert doesn’t speak very often, but when he does, he — like I said — he has a plan. But they love information, and they can sit down with any one of our analytical guys and go over stuff and retain it, and they can sit down and talk to the pitchers and tell them what they see, and obviously get feedback from the pitchers on what they want to do, and they come up with a plan.
“It’s been good. With a veteran player sometimes, they’re stuck in their ways, and they see things a lot differently, and it’s harder to communicate, but I was blessed to have Suzuki, Weiters, and Yan Gomes, and those guys were definitely very veteran catchers that understood the game very well, so these guys, like I said, these guys are learning at a rapid pace, and they’re doing really well.”
Keibert Ruiz came over from the Dodgers with eight games of experience in the majors, and he played 23 games for the Nationals down the stretch after they called him up from Triple-A Rochester. Ruiz has hit everywhere he’s played, and he still has plenty to learn behind the plate, but Martinez said the catcher is mature enough to handle it, and talented enough that he can be a difference-maker for Washington. How has he seen the catcher’s game improve over the first six weeks of the 2022 campaign?
“He’s matured a lot,” Martinez said. “He’s been doing well, and he’s learning a lot, especially handling our pitching staff. He’s another one, we talked about communication. Once again I saw him and Riley [Adams] both sitting with Aaron [Sanchez] before the game and having a game plan, but these guys they all communicate together, like I said, Riley and him sit together a lot, they watch videos together, and they go over different things of what each one of them is seeing, and they come up with a good game plan. But he’s done really well. As you know, he’s our everyday catcher, but he’s learning a lot. He’s working with Henry [Blanco] on different things on catching, and staying lower on pitches and framing a little bit better, so every day he’s getting better.”
Home Field ... Advantage?:
Washington’s 5-6 road trip to San Francisco, Colorado, and Anaheim left them with a 7-9 record away from D.C. this season, and then they split the first two games with New York this week, leaving them with a 4-12 mark in the nation’s capital.
It’s something their manager knows has to improve going forward, though, you know, he doesn’t like to go looking too far ahead ... or behind, or beyond the task at hand, really.
“As I always say, our focus is on today, and going 1-0 today, but yeah, we definitely got to play better at home,” Martinez told reporters.
“It’s something that we talk about, something that I talk about with the coaches — and yesterday we played well, and there were some games here that I thought we played well, we just didn’t finish the game, so now it’s an opportunity to keep going and try to finish those games on top, but we definitely got to play a lot better at home, and yesterday was a good sign.”