Cubs manager David Ross has enjoyed listening to the banter between pitcher Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini this year.
“These two guys have a real funny sense of humor towards each other,” Ross said.
It’s no wonder that caught Ross’s attention. On Saturday he joked that he might “give too much love” to backup catchers, after spending his playing career as one. But that experience also uniquely prepared Ross to set up Caratini for success.
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This season, that’s meant pairing him with Darvish.
“We have a great relationship,” Caratini said through a translator Saturday. “… It all started because we kept trying to motivate each other. We’ve gained a friendship and trust as well.”
Last year, Caratini first caught Darvish on May 20. After a rough start to the season, Darvish entered that game against the Phillies with a 5.14 ERA.
From the beginning, Caratini said, “I tried to look at the way that he likes to pitch, his pitch sequences, the way he likes to read the scouting report, approach his batters.”
Darvish threw five scoreless innings against Philadelphia but gave up three runs in the sixth. That was the start of a successful pairing. Caratini caught all but three of Darvish’s remaining starts. Darvish logged a 3.29 ERA with the backup catcher behind the dish.
“I know first-hand what that relationship feels like,” Ross said, “when you’re on the same page with a guy, when you’ve just got a good rapport and a connection that goes beyond just being back there and receiving the baseball.”
Being Darvish’s personal catcher also gives Caratini the advantage of consistency, which backup catchers often lack in their schedules.
“You can really plan your week around the day you’re going to play,” Ross said, “how you scout the guy you may be facing, when to get your workout in, when to take extra BP, maybe when to back off. There’s just some nice components to the off days as well when you can stay prepared and fresh.”
Between that, and the need to give starting catcher Willson Contreras some days off – the Cubs play 60 games in 66 days this season – Ross said it was an easy choice to pair Darvish and Caratini.
“But the main thing,” Ross said, “is the connection they had and the results they had from last year.”
Darvish claimed the No. 2 slot in the rotation this season and is scheduled to make his first regular season start next Saturday.