HOUSTON — Kurt Suzuki has been the Nationals’ primary catcher for three days. Until Monday night, when the Nationals used six relievers to beat the Astros, he hadn’t caught their entire bullpen. He’s only caught two of their five starters.
As seamless of a transition as everyone would like to make it, there are certain realities about the adjustment period Suzuki’s going to have behind the plate with the Nationals’ staff.
“It’s been going pretty fast,” Suzuki said Monday. “I’m still not used to pitchers in the bullpen and seeing (their stuff). I’m still getting kind of thrown off guard on some of their pitches.
“It’s tough. But as I catch them more and more I’ll be more comfortable. Right now, it’s just like getting thrown int he fire and just going. It’s a little tough but it’s fun at the same time.”
He went to the bullpen Sunday, when Jesus Flores started, to catch the Nationals’ relievers as they warmed up to get in the game, but it really only gave him “a little feel.”
“I’m catching the bullpen though,” he said. “So it’s not even close to what it usually is in the game.”
Suzuki, who was hailed as a strong game caller and a guy Gio Gonzalez said is “aggressive” behind the plate, has had to tone that down a bit in his first few games.
Not knowing fully which pitches are a pitchers’ best or which they like to throw when, Suzuki has had to allow the pitchers a little more autonomy over the game calling at this early stage.
“Right now probably the first week I’ll go with what they want to throw just because I’m still trying to learn what pitches they like to throw and what they can do in each situation,” Suzuki said. “So I’m not really going to come in and say ‘You have to throw this.’ I’m still learning what they like to do in certain situations.”
Speaking of which, the Nationals threw an interestingly high number of offspeed and breaking pitches Monday night against the Astros.
Edwin Jackson threw either his slider or his changeup on 58 of his 106 pitches. Drew Storen threw seven sliders in his 16 pitches (and only five strikes), according to MLB.com’s pitch tracker. Tyler Clippard also threw his changeup, predominantly, instead of his fastball, though it is his best pitch.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson indicated the high percentage of non-fastballs was part of the team’s game plan in hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park, and not the work of either the pitchers or Suzuki. But the Nationals walked six batters Monday night, including three across the eighth and ninth innings.
“I know the book on (the Astros) and in this ballpark they jump all over fastballs because it’s kind of short fences everywhere you look,” Johnson said. “But we were getting behind and then having to throw fastballs. I’m going to discuss it with (pitching coach Steve McCatty).
“I mean, we’ve got good fastballs. Let’s challenge somebody once in a while. At least for me. I like that better than a walk.”