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Opportunity convinces Davey Martinez to throw aside an old baseball trope

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Opportunity convinces Davey Martinez to throw aside an old baseball trope

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Remember that time a manager had to use his “emergency” catcher? No? Well, that’s because it rarely happens. 

Maybe once in a lifetime. Maybe never. It long operated as the unverifiable excuse for not putting the backup catcher into a game, always enabling that pervasive detriment to change, “What if?”

What if the replacement is hurt? Then the manager is stuck with the so-called emergency catcher. That could be hairy.

Except it’s a longshot. Very long. Nationals manager Davey Martinez sat down during the offseason and thought it through. Checked the numbers. Realized this concern is poppycock. 

“Last year, I thought about it at the end when [Matt] Wieters wasn't able to really catch and he was on the bench, I said, you know what, he's going to hit,” Martinez said Saturday. “If it's a good spot for him, let him hit. I thought all winter, you have two catchers and one guy's playing and you don't want the other guy to play, you might as well just play with 24 guys, really. So why not use them with the right opportunity?”

Aiding this epiphany is two viable options at catcher: Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. In a Pedro Severino-Spencer Kieboom offensive situation, the options are not quite as enticing. Martinez also argued last season he preferred one catcher throughout the game because that person had a feel for what was happening. By that, as much as anything, he meant what was working for a pitcher on a given night against specific hitters. 

It’s easy to wipe away that argument, too. Suzuki will rarely be working with the starting pitcher if he pinch-hits in the eighth inning straight for Gomes or takes his place in a double-switch. He would instead be matched with a bullpen piece. Sequencing becomes more clear, pitching strength more obvious, the entire package more straight forward. A beneficial feel to again wade through the order for the same pitcher won’t exist if Trevor Rosenthal jogs to the mound in the eighth and Suzuki is suddenly behind the plate. 

Gomes is significantly better against left-handed pitching. Suzuki’s splits are close to even. Paired, they give Martinez options both to start and later in the game. The days he rests, Gomes will count as a matchup bat against left-handed relief. Howie Kendrick will also be another option there.

What’s unclear is how the catchers will split time. Gomes appears slated for more starts. Suzuki could well be paired with Anibal Sanchez a season after catching his year of rejuvenation in Atlanta. Each says they don’t care how the time is distributed. Such a claim is often made in the sun-induced pleasure of spring training. Suzuki’s date of birth, Oct. 4, 1983, makes it sound more like fact in this instance. 

“I don’t even care,” Suzuki said. “At this point in my career, picking a team that has a chance to win a World Series is very important to me and like I told [Mike Rizzo] and Davey from Day 1, whatever you need me to do I'll be ready. Whether it's 50 games, 60, whatever. However many games you want me to catch. If I can help the team win every time I’m out there, that's great. I just want to win at this point in my career. I know the clock’s ticking a little bit. I’m not getting younger. That World Series is getting to be pretty important right now.” 

It’s easy for Gomes to agree. He’s in line for 100 starts. Perhaps more.

“That’s just something that if we make that a deal, this team is not going to go forward,” Gomes said. “I just think we need to both be ready whenever our names get called. That’s two guys that have done it with some good pitching staffs and it’s only going to benefit [everyone]. But if we put the playing time thing ahead of [things], it’s not going to be beneficial for the team. And the guy has done it for a long time, man. You have to respect that, especially from a catching standpoint, so you just kind of get to talk to him even more and we already have a little bit of a relationship. He’s an awesome guy and I’m just looking forward to a great season together.”

Washington finished 14th in National League catcher OPS last season. This time, Martinez has two above-average offensive options and new thinking. Gone is a hole and an old trope. In are Gomes and Suzuki. Emergencies are not a concern.

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Nationals' pitching staff rocked in Colorado as Nats close out ugly road trip

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Nationals' pitching staff rocked in Colorado as Nats close out ugly road trip

The Washington Nationals lost to the Colorado Rockies, 9-5, Wednesday afternoon and fell to 11-12 on the season. Here are five observations from the game...

1. The Anibal Sanchez experiment is not going well so far.

The veteran right-hander came to Washington over the winter fresh off a fantastic season in Atlanta, one that was an aberration from previous years and may have extended his career. The Nationals hoped he would be much more like his 2018 version and not the guy he was from 2015 through 2017. 

But through five starts, the results have not been pretty, and Wednesday was his worst game yet. Sanchez got rocked for six earned runs on nine hits and five walks in five innings of work. His season ERA sits at 6.00 and he has 16 walks in 27 total innings.

The early returns on the Nats rotation have not been great. Patrick Corbin is their only starter with an ERA below 4.00. But Sanchez has been far and away the weakest link.

The Nats closed out their road trip with a 2-4 mark. Both series were against teams with losing records. They have lost three of their past four series overall.

2. Adam Eaton also had a rough day. His worst moment was in the bottom of the third, when Raimel Tapia knocked a bases-clearing double over his head in right field. 

Eaton appeared to misjudge the ball by stepping in too far. He jumped in an attempt to make up for it with a leaping grab, only to have the ball sail past him and to the wall. Though Victor Robles sprinted over to back him up, Eaton made the play look even worse by giving up on it and doubling over with his hands on his knees in frustration.

Just one frame later, Eaton struck out with the bases loaded to end the top of the fourth. He went 1-for-5 on the day with his lone hit a single in the top of the ninth.

Eaton also had a minor injury scare. While running out a grounder in the first, he slowed down and appeared to be limping. He was then shown on TV chatting with trainer Paul Lessard in the dugout. 

3. Because this is the 2019 Nationals, the bullpen of course played a factor and once again it was an adventure for Trevor Rosenthal.

Per usual, he was pumping heat but with zero control. He began the eighth inning by hitting Charlie Blackmon and finished the frame with three runs allowed on two hits and a walk. Of his 31 pitches, only 16 were strikes and three were wild. 

Those three runs were costly because the Nats scored two in the ninth and left runners on the corners. If Rosenthal had pitched a clean eighth, it would have been a one-run game.

Rosenthal has allowed runs in six of his seven appearances this season. He now leads the majors with five wild pitches.  

Rosenthal remains one of the Nats' highest upside relief options, so it may pay off down the road if they show patience in him. But it continues to be a disaster just about every time he takes the mound.

4. It wasn't all bad for the Nats. Juan Soto, who fouled a pitch off his right ankle in Tuesday's game, played in this one and launched his fourth homer of the season over the right field fence. He also drew a walk.

Jake Noll made the first start of his MLB career and landed his first hit. He rifled a double down the left field line in the second inning to score Matt Adams. 

Noll started at third base, which was a bit of a strange sight. By now everyone knows of him as the guy who looks like Ryan Zimmerman; now he's playing his old position?

5. The Rockies got a key piece back in their lineup, a guy who is a familiar face to Nats fans. Wednesday was Daniel Murphy's return from a fractured left finger. 

The injury gave him a four-to-six week recovery timeline, but he came back a few days early. Perhaps that can be taken as a sign of hope for Trea Turner, who remains out with a broken finger himself.

Murphy did some damage against his former team. He singled in his first at-bat off Sanchez, then walked and scored in the third inning. He also moved a runner over on a lineout in the fourth that contributed to a run.

Murphy's best highlight, though, came in between innings when he barely avoided disaster while running onto the field during the Rockies' equivalent of the Presidents Race.

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By the skin of his teeth, former Nat Daniel Murphy avoids getting run over by Rockies' giant tooth

By the skin of his teeth, former Nat Daniel Murphy avoids getting run over by Rockies' giant tooth

You thought your Racing Presidents days were over, Daniel Murphy? Think again. 

Murphy, the second baseman for the Colorado Rockies and former first baseman for the Washington Nationals, was almost knocked over by a racing… tooth? The Comfort Dental Tooth Trot is a stadium staple at Coors Field, and Murphy got stuck in the action. 

Distracted, Murphy walked out of the dugout and right in front of the racers. He jumped out of the way as fast as he could, but couldn’t avoid getting shaken up by, you know, the giant tooth running toward him

Murphy was reinstated from the 10-day injured list Wednesday after fracturing his left index finger during the second game of the season. He was planed on the list on April 1 and missed 20 games. He was reinstated for Wednesday’s game against the Nationals to play first base and bat third, according to the Associated Press.

In 2016, Murphy was traded to the Nationals from the New York Mets, where he played for seven seasons. He signed a three-year, $3.75 million contract with Washington. He was traded to the Cubs in 2018, two and a half years into his time with the Nats. 

In December, he was traded to the Rockies to earn $19 million in 2019, according to Ken Rosenthal.

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