WASHINGTON -- Friday afternoon grousing centered on what time the plane arrived. The Nationals’ charter returned to Dulles International Airport around 6 a.m. From there, players and staff scurried to their houses, some being caught in the morning commute.
Yan Gomes made it home in about 27 minutes. He needed to get to sleep. Friday night he would be catching his seventh consecutive game, a grind he had been through other times in his career, but complicated Friday by the late (or early) landing following a pre-dawn departure from Minneapolis.
Gomes figures he was asleep by 6:45 a.m., roughly 15-20 minutes after he walked through the door of his home. He woke up around 12:30 p.m. Then, he took the step so many do after first arising: the coffee was brewed, prompting midday to act as morning. Next was arriving at the park, where food and hydration were the priorities. Gomes, 32, needed to prepare his body for baseball’s hardest position and his brain for Max Scherzer’s outing.
“I don’t think people realize how much adrenaline we’re using [Friday],” Gomes said. “Just try to get through today. But the main thing is nobody is feeling bad for us we had a late night. Everyone’s kind of doing that. Scheduling this year has been kind of weird.”
Gomes crouching behind the plate again Friday was running him into an uncommon level of usage during his eight-year career -- and a level of work which is going to continue. Gomes, even when the primary catcher in Cleveland, caught seven or more games in a row (and never more than eight) six times. He had not handled such a stretch since 2016. Only once did such a streak occur in September, and that happened in 2014, Gomes’ second full season in the league.
“I’ve done scheduling like this before where I’ve had to catch night and day games a lot of times,” Gomes said. “I think when you get a certain age, you just have to pay more attention with the pregame stuff, postgame stuff. Body doesn’t recover as well. It’s one of those things where got to sack up and use some caffeine to get you through the day [Friday]. Drink as much as you can, as much as you can tolerate. Everyone’s tired. You just got to make sure you’re loose and ready to go so injuries don’t happen.”
Saturday he received a break. Rookie Raudy Read caught Austin Voth. However, the respite will be temporary.
Kurt Suzuki still has not thrown a baseball since injuring his right elbow Sept. 6. Inflammation continues to be an issue. He swung a bat in the batting cage Friday. Saturday, Suzuki pulled on his catching gear and went to the bullpen to practice blocking balls with bullpen coach Henry Blanco. Sprints followed. Throwing did not.
“Said he felt OK,” Davey Martinez said. “If he continues to do that, try to get him to hit on the field by early next week and we'll go from there. We miss him. We hope we can get him back soon. He's doing everything he can to try to get ready and play again as soon as possible.”
Read and Tres Barrera -- both rookies -- now comprise the backup catchers. The good news for Gomes is his prior experience as the full-time catcher and that he split time much of this season. Suzuki and Gomes were running close to a clean workload split before Suzuki’s injury. Gomes caught 71 games, Suzuki 68. So, he’s done this before and received rest earlier this season to position him well to do it again.
And, a hard decision was going to come in the postseason for Martinez. Suzuki’s offense is a clear plus over Gomes. However, his ability to throw out baserunners is almost non-existent this season, when Suzuki has thrown out five of 50 base-stealers. The 10 percent caught stealing rate is the lowest of his career and well below the 23 percent average during his 13 seasons in the major leagues. Those numbers are also influenced by pitchers, situations and official scorer rulings. However, Suzuki’s 10 percent is a stunningly low number and directly reflective of his struggles.
Martinez previously said an MRI of Suzuki’s elbow showed no structural damage. Inflammation remains the issue. Resolution of the inflammation remains tricky.
“Listening to the medical staff and listening to him, the biggest thing is getting the inflammation out of his elbow,” Martinez said. “Then we'll see how far we can push him to get him ready. But a lot is going to be determined on him, what he feels and how he feels.”
Washington’s system is without a top-tier catching prospect. Read is considered more of a hitter. He could well become a first baseman in the future. Barrera played this season at Double-A Harrisburg. He was a sixth-round pick in 2016. A preseason list of the organization’s top 30 prospects placed Barrera 18th despite turning 25 years old on Sunday.
The complication of limited options popped up Saturday. Washington put two runners with one out. Read was due up. The situation was primed for Suzuki to pinch-hit, then take over as catcher, if he was able. Or even giving Gomes a chance -- if he hadn’t caught for seven consecutive days. Read hit for himself and grounded into a double play.
The final month’s workload rests with Gomes. Of the 15 remaining games, he will likely catch up to 14 if Suzuki remains injured. There is one built-in off-day. A split day-night doubleheader against Philadelphia will require Read to make another appearance. Otherwise, it’s time to sleep, eat, stay hydrated and ride it out.
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