Ever wonder what is said during those visits on the mound between pitcher and catcher?
"Papi, you're rushing. Why you going so fast?"
That's what Victor Caratini said to Kyle Hendricks last week, according to the right-handed pitcher.
Caratini's late-inning mound visit was an underrated play in last Thursday's contest. Hendricks threw seven shutout frames and allowed only three baserunners, but he couldn't do it all alone. He needed some help from his second-year catcher.
"That was perfect," Hendricks said. "He knows me so well. He could just see I was rushing a little bit, trying to do a little bit too much. I knew I was getting to the end of my rope, so to come out there, calm me down, get back to the focus of making a good pitch no matter what — keep it simple. It got me locked back in."
Caratini's mound visit doesn't show up in the box score, but it drew rave reviews from his manager and was another indication the 26-year-old is really coming into his own during a breakout season with the Cubs.
"I loved it," Joe Maddon said. "I think that's self-confidence. He knew exactly what was going on. He saw Kyle coming out of his delivery, he saw him getting too quick, he saw the warning signs against Kyle and he did something about it.
"That's awesome. That's an absolute growth moment for Victor. To hear his pitcher say that, that really sticks."
Caratini's emergence could not have come at a better time for the Cubs, who have been without Willson Contreras for over a month this season between two different injured list stints.
But even when Contreras has been healthy, Caratini had already taken over as Yu Darvish's personal catcher. The two have been linked as battery mates for every outing since June 26 and in total, Caratini has caught 15 of Darvish's 27 starts.
Caratini's bond with Darvish has developed to the point where the two now jog together before starts in a little pregame superstition. And even when he's in the starting lineup catching another pitcher, Caratini still goes out to catch Darvish's between-starts bullpens to help the 33-year-old pitcher work on whatever he needs to.
"Vic is such a calming presence back there and Darvish really appreciates having the way he sets up and the way he looks back there," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "But the relationship is so fun because the way they talk to each other, the way they interact with each other and Victor's not afraid to challenge a veteran pitcher who's been in the league for a long time and makes a lot of money, all those things.
"Victor's not afraid to joke around with him and push back at him and challenge him. They joke around, but they're serious when they need to be. Even pregame, Darvish will say, 'hey, how was that pitch?' And Vic will say, 'oh, it stinks; it wasn't good.' He'll challenge him and it makes him better. They have such a good relationship.
"From the minute they get to the park that day, they know exactly what the routine is gonna be — they're gonna run together before the game and they do a lot of things together. It's just this really cool, organic relationship that's formed over the course of the season and it's not fabricated, it's not fake."
Their Cubs teammates love watching it, too.
Behind the scenes, Caratini is known as a goofball with snark, which probably comes as a surprise to fans considering his quiet, emotionless demeanor when he's on the field or on camera.
"He's always on Darvish, giving him crap," Hendricks said. "It's awesome. It works. I don't know how —it just loosens you up, too. You don't take yourself so seriously. We just bash at each other. ... He's always had that in him, but now he's just kinda letting loose, letting it fly. Everyone around here now knows that's him. He's just coming into his own."
Among Cubs position players, Caratini ranks sixth in overall WAR (1.3) and that's despite missing a month with a broken hamate bone and spending much of the rest of the season as Contreras' backup.
Caratini agrees he's been more assertive this season compared to last year or his 31-game audition in 2017. He believes that has come with the confidence and sense of belonging that he now feels and he is comfortable making his voice heard in bullpens, mound visits, pregame scouting sessions or just in the dugout during games.
He's built up a lot of trust with the Cubs pitchers and coaching staff over the last couple years, especially with his selfless nature.
"He's out there catching bullpens, so he's catching them when they're working on things and trying to get ready for the next game," Hottovy said. "Even on days he's in the starting lineup, he goes out and catches Darvish's 'pen cause he knows Darvish wants to work on some stuff for the next outing. His selflessness, his ability to take himself out of what's going on for the day, what he has to do to get ready and also do what he feels is right for the guys he's gonna catch next.
"I think that's a testament to his personality and who he is and what he does and how well he retains information — whether it's scouting reports, whether it's the approach we want to have with a certain guy with sequencing on different pitches and he's got really good feel behind the plate. Whenever he goes off script, usually we know it's for a good reason. It's thought out, it's a pitch he just called that sets up from the previous pitch, all those things.
"He does a great job. For a guy who is 26 years old, he's like a veteran catcher. He brings that kind of feel and that kind of presence back there. We're lucky to have him for sure."