Israel Pineda’s Big Opportunity:
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about him,” Davey Martinez said after the Nationals called up the 22-year-old catcher Israel Pineda earlier this month.
“He’s handled the pitching really well down in Rochester,” the big league manager added.
“He swung the bat well. So he’s going to get an opportunity.”
Pineda, signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2016, worked his way up from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A and finally to the majors this season, and made his debut in Philadelphia on the last road trip. He put up a .258/.325/.458 line, 20 doubles, and 16 home runs between the Nats’ three affiliates.
“I know he’s progressed fairly rapidly this year,” Martinez said before he penciled the young catcher in for his second big league start.
“He went through a bunch of different levels. But he’s done well. I just want to let him continue to play.”
Martinez has sent Pineda out there three times in the week-plus the backstop has been up.
What is he watching as he tries to evaluate the catcher down the stretch this season?
“I’m looking more about his defense, the way he handles the pitching staff, what he’s doing, how he’s learned,” Martinez said. “I saw him the last couple days, he knows he’s going to catch Aníbal [Sànchez], and he was stuck at the hip with Aníbal for two straight days, so we’ll see how he handles him today, but yeah, he’s got the willingness to want to be better, and want to learn. He’s been working really hard with [Catching and Strategy coach] Henry [Blanco] every day so I’m looking forward to — like I said, we’re going to get him in there as much as we possibly can. I want to see him and I want to see his growth, I want to see how well he matures, and also too how well he does make adjustments as a hitter, and see if he can really become a hitter that we think he can become. But more or less, for me, with those young hitters, it’s just putting the ball in play, really trying to put the ball in play and stay in the middle of the field, not trying to do too much, which I’ve already seen a little of that, in his first young at-bats, where he’s really trying hard to do too much, and I just want him to go out and just relax.”
Pineda is 0 for 10 with a walk through his first three games in the majors.
Sticking With Catching:
Riley Adams, who turned 26 back in late June, was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays last July 30th, at the trade deadline in 2021, and he got 35 games in over the final months of the season last year, then started the 2022 campaign in the majors too, before he was optioned to Triple-A in late June.
Adams returned to the majors in late August, and manager Davey Martinez talked this week about what he’s seen, in terms of the catcher’s development, since he was acquired in their deadline deal with the Jays, straight up for left-handed reliever Brad Hand.
“For me, he’s definitely improved on game-calling,” Martinez said. “Guys love throwing to him, he handles the pitchers well, his blocking has been a lot better, his throwing has been a lot better, his hitting is coming. We sent him down for a while to work on his hitting, and he learned a lot about himself and hitting. When he makes contact he hits the ball really, really hard, so that’s one thing we want him to really work on, is getting ready to hit, especially early in the counts, not being afraid to swing, but be ready to hit the fastball, and adjust from there, but I think that’s coming.
“The other day, I know he hit two balls really, really hard, but just getting him to understand that, ‘Hey, when the ball is in the strike zone, you can go ahead and swing, good chance is when you’re going to hit it, you’re going it hard,’ so we want him to be more aggressive in that aspect of the game, but he’s been really good. Like I said, not a day goes by where he’s not learning something as far as pitching.
“He sits in all the meetings, even when he’s not catching, he’s learning each and every day, he’s working with [Catching and Strategy coach] Henry [Blanco] on his blocking and his throwing, so he’s getting better.”
And The Nats’ No.1?:
Keibert Ruiz went on the IL on September 9th with a testicular contusion, the result of a foul ball while the 24-year-old catcher was behind the plate in his 112th game of the 2022 season (.251/.313/.360, 22 doubles, seven home runs, 30 walks, 50 Ks in 433 PAs). Ruiz traveled this week, going to Atlanta with the team in spite of the fact that he’s not expected to return this season.
Though Martinez said previously he wasn’t sure the catcher would travel with the club since they didn’t, “want him on a flight,” he did go on the next-to-last road trip of the year.
“He’s feeling better,” Martinez said before the series opener in Atlanta on Monday, as quoted by MASN’s Paul Mancano. “He’s still pretty sore, but he obviously is feeling better, he’s able to fly with us.”
Though he can’t play, Ruiz has been pitching in as much as he can, helping the other three catchers currently on the roster, according to his manager.
“Keibert actually can sit, and he goes over everything with Riley Adams,” Martinez said, “and he communicates with those guys. And he’s also been helping [Israel] Pineda as well. It’s nice to have him around. Yesterday, he sat in the dugout and I saw him talking to Pineda a lot, so it’s good to see him moving around and be able to do some stuff.”
Even with a relatively young group of catchers on the big league roster (Ruiz, 24, Adams, 26, Pineda, 22, and Tres Barrera, 28), with not much experience in the majors between them, it’s possible, Martinez said, for them to learn from and help one another as they all develop.
“Catching is a tough position,” Martinez said. “They really gotta see the game in a different perspective, and they got to understand how to handle pitchers. That’s something that we value. We want these guys to really go out there and learn our pitchers, because at any given moment one of those guys could have an injury, like Keibert, and they’ve got to come up and play.”
“You’ve Still Got It! [clap, clap, clapclapclap]!:
In his last six starts and 29 1⁄3 IP, Aníbal Sánchez, 38, and in his 16th major league season, has put up a 1.53 ERA, a 5.08 FIP, 14 walks, 16 Ks, and a .144/.272/.268 line against, giving himself something to think about if he plans to return for a 17th run. He can still do it. So, does he want to? And would the Nationals be interested in bringing him back if he did?
But more importantly, after his slow start to the season once he got back on the mound, following an extended IL stint for a cervical nerve impingement in his neck which didn’t crop up till the end of Spring Training, and kept him off the hill in the majors till mid-July, Sánchez has shown flashes of being the pitcher he was in 2019.
He’s a different pitcher than he was in 2006, but he’s adjusted as his stuff has changed, and he’s been able to keep going.
“You know what, he’s very smart,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said after Sánchez gave up four hits, two walks, and two runs in a 3-1 loss to the Marlins on Sunday.
“He takes care of his body really well,” Martinez continued. “I mean, this guy works hard every single day, and if he continues to pitch like that, I mean I think — you know he’s not going to throw 94-95 anymore, but he pitches. And this league, sometimes that’s all you got to do, is make good pitches, and he’s been doing that. For four or five starts now he’s been really effective. So we’ll see what happens here in the next few weeks. He’s going to get an opportunity to go out there a few more times, but I’m really happy for him because he missed a lot of time and he came back and he was struggling at the beginning, and I told him, like I’ve always said before, that this is basically, ‘You’re going to go through Spring Training all over again, and once you find your groove, you’re a finesse pitcher, once you find your groove, you’re going to go back out there and you’re going to start getting outs and you’re going to start pitching well, and he’s done that.”