The Washington Nationals began spring training this week and it appears that Kurt Suzuki will be their starting catcher come opening day. The Nationals hope that his veteran leadership will help their pitching staff take the next step after making it to post season play for the first time in 2012.
Suzuki goes into spring training number one on the depth chart despite the fact that last years opening day catcher Wilson Ramos is expected to be recovered from a knee injury suffered last May. It was Ramos’ injury which led to Washington making a trade with the Oakland Athletics for Suzuki in August. Suzuki took over for Jesus Flores and manned the position for the remainder of the year.
Keeping Suzuki as the every day catcher makes sense for the Nationals. He had a chance to become familiar with the Washington pitching staff last season. The only starter going into the spring that Suzuki has not had a chance to work with is free agent pickup Dan Haren who pitched for the Los Angeles Angels in 2012. Suzuki will also have to become familiar with the Nationals new closer, Rafael Soriano formerly of the New York Yankees. If the way Suzuki adjusted after arriving last season is any indication, everyone should be up to speed by opening day.
Another reason why Suzuki should remain the catcher is to allow Ramos a chance to fully recover from his injury. Though most of the news about Ramos’ rehab has been positive, his injury was a pretty bad one and there is no guarantee he will be ready by opening day. Even if Ramos is fully recovered, it would not be a bad idea for Washington to have him back up Suzuki this season. Just as a team can never have enough good pitchers, it helps to have more than one catcher.
Though not known for his hitting prowess with the Athletics, Suzuki will be expected to pick up where he left off at the plate for the Nationals last season. In 43 regular season games he batted .243 with five home runs and 25 RBI. Many of his run producing hits came at clutch times. With a full spring training to work with Washington batting coach Rick Ekstein, Suzuki’s numbers should improve.
The Nationals were fortunate to get Suzuki from Oakland last season after Ramos was injured. Now, they are blessed to have two good catchers competing in Viera, Florida. Manager Davey Johnson would not want it any other way.
Washington is happy to have Ramos back in the fold, but Suzuki is the man calling the shots right now.