With the Nationals at Spring Training: Catch 162

kurt suzuki bryce harper
Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki gestures to Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper during a game in 2019. (AP Photo/Balce Ceneta)

In some things, there always seems to be a catch.

While it’s great to have a catcher who’s productive at the plate, you don’t want to play him every day because then he’d break down.

And while you want to give your number one catcher rest, you don’t want his absences to upset your starting pitchers’ rhythm (it’s been known that hurlers are creatures of habit).

It’s tough to come up with a backstop combination that works. However, that’s another rule where the Washington Nationals provide the exception.

Last year’s catching combination of Yan Gomes (90 starts) and Kurt Suzuki (70 starts) ranked third in the majors in runs scored and RBI (minor leaguer Tres Berrea started the other two games).

But while the offensive prowess of the duo is daunting, they’ve made their mark working with the pitching staff.

What sets the pair apart?

“The way they communicate with pitchers. They’re very smart, their routine in between games and in between innings — unbelievable,” Manager Davey Martinez said. “The amount of videos and communication, even the days after they catch somebody.”

Despite the pair being teammates for the first time last season, Gomes and Suzuki meshed together from the start.

“I think those two created a special bond amongst themselves, but other than that they’ve created a special bond with our pitches as well,” Martinez said. “They’re students of the game, they love the game, they take control of the game, which I really, really like.”

Each has made the All-Star Game once, and for three years (2014-2016) they competed against one another in the AL Central when Gomes suited up for Cleveland and Suzuki caught for Minnesota.

“Playing against him for a long time, I’ve always respected him and enjoyed watching him play,” Gomes said. “Getting to bounce ideas off of each other has been a fun time, and we just keep looking forward to growing.”

Blending personalities at a shared position is just as important as blending skill-sets.

“We obviously built a great relationship with each other on and off the field,” Suzuki said. “Sometimes you just jell with some people. Me and Yan — we have fun together. But at the same time, we get our work done, we know what we have to do and we understand every situation.”

Finding the common ground means they’re able to maximize each pitcher’s outing.

“The two things that I really get out of them: they care so much and they just work their butt off for you,” pitcher Aaron Barrett said. “I love that as a pitcher that I can throw any pitch in any count they’re behind it and they believe in it.”

The fact that they’ve been so interchangeable is a blessing to the staff, especially the younger pitchers.

“Whichever one’s behind the plate that day it doesn’t matter. You know they’ve done their work along with you doing your work, getting ready to go into the game to face the hitters,” Tanner Rainey (a rookie in 2019) said. “When they put down whatever pitch it is, being able to have that confidence and know that their head’s in the right place. It’s a good feeling.”

At the Spring Training Complex, just like Nationals Park, the pair’s lockers are right next to one another.

And even though Gomes is 3 inches taller and Suzuki is four years older, it’s not always easy telling the two apart.

“You rarely see them separated, I guess. They’re always messing around in the locker room and wrestling with trainers,” pitcher Erick Fedde said. “Gomes to me almost seems more like the brooding force. He’s the guy who’s going to be in your face and throwing guys out. Zuke seems more methodical but so articulate in that sense.”

While Gomes and Suzuki are exactly what the 2020 Nationals need, there’s a catch.  Suzuki’s contract expires after this season, and Gomes’ deal wraps up in 2021.

But before either departs, Martinez hopes that they help the younger catchers currently in the Nats’ minor league system to learn the little things from the major league duo.

“If you’re a young catcher now and you have two veteran catchers like that, you need to get with them,” Martinez said. “Figure out what’s good, what’s not and they can help you in many ways.”

The present setting up the future? That’s some catch.

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Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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