WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — As important as setting his pitching rotation, Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez will begin to determine his catching platoon when Grapefruit League games begin on Saturday.
After two years of subpar play at one of the game’s most important positions, the Nationals elected to let Matt Wieters leave via free agency and fortified the position by trading for Yan Gomes and by signing Kurt Suzuki.
A little more than a week into spring training, both have been a hit with the Nationals’ pitching staff.
“The targets that they give makes you feel great as a pitcher, makes you feel a little bit closer — like it’s easier to hit,” said closer Sean Doolittle, a former teammate of Suzuki’s in Oakland. “They both have an incredible reputation of being guys that are really smart back there, that work really hard.”
Gomes, absent from Washington’s camp on Thursday because of illness, and Suzuki spent the first days of camp getting to know one of the league’s best pitching staffs, led by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and free-agent signee Patrick Corbin.
“It’s always fun catching those type of pitchers because you’ve got so many weapons to work with and also you don’t have to face those guys — they’re on your team,” Suzuki said.
Martinez has yet to establish a true catcher rotation for spring games. Gomes is slated to play in Saturday’s opener against Houston. Suzuki won’t make his spring debut until Tuesday when he’ll catch Anibal Sanchez, his teammate last season with Atlanta.
“I just want to make sure they each catch Strasburg, they each catch Scherzer, Corbin and Anibal, (Jeremy) Hellickson, (Joe) Ross,” Martinez said. “They’re going to play. The biggest thing for me is their at-bats. We want to keep them around 40-50 at bats.”
With Wieters frequently injured during his two seasons in Washington, the Nationals haven’t enjoyed a true offensive threat at catcher since Wilson Ramos’ 2016 season.
At Cleveland, Gomes hit double-digit homers in five of his last six seasons. Last year’s 16 homers, which complemented 26 doubles and a .266 average, are more than the Nationals received from the position in either of the past two seasons.
Suzuki, a 12-year veteran whose four previous stops includes a stint with the Nationals, enjoyed a resurgence over the past couple seasons. He hit better than .270 and drove in at least 50 runs in each of the past two seasons.
“Both of us believe that we’re No. 1 guys,” Gomes said. “We’re going to have to put our feelings aside a little bit and, whenever our names are called, be ready to control that game.”
Martinez envisions something close to a 50-50 playing time split between his two catchers once the season begins.
“Maybe one guy likes throwing, they work better with a certain catcher, we’ll see how that plays out,” Martinez said. “But they are both exceptional. I don’t think we’ll lose anything with either one of them playing.”