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July 19, 2009 at 8:39 AM

Sunday lineups, and pre-game notes: The Rob Johnson-Kenji Johjima dynamic

westbrook.jpg 003.jpg
That’s Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook throwing a simulated game this morning. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Mariners (48-43)
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Russell Branyan 1B
Jose Lopez 2B
Chris Shelton DH
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Rob Johnson C
Ryan Langerhans LF
Chris Woodward 3B
Ronny Cedeno SS
LHP Erik Bedard (5-2, 2.63 ERA)
Indians (36-56)
Grady Sizemore DH
Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Shin-Soo Choo RF
Victor Martinez 1B
Jhonny Peralta 3B
Ryan Garko LF
Ben Francisco CF
Luis Valbuena 2B
Kelly Shoppach C
LHP Aaron Laffey 3-2, 4.24 ERA)
Chad Fairchild – HP
Jim Joyce – 1B
Doug Eddings – 2B
Dana De Muth – 3B
As you can see from the lineups, Russ Branyan convinced manager Don Wakamatsu that his back was feeling better, so he’s in the lineup. Ken Griffey Jr., who has been struggling, gets the day off, with Chris Shelton getting the start at DH.
WIth Rob Johnson starting for the third straight game, the question naturally arose about the division of playing time between Johnson and Kenji Johjima. Johjima, you might remember, started the first game of the series, with Garrett Olson pitching. He got three hits and threw out two runners, but hasn’t played since. Wakamatsu made it clear he likes the way Johnson works with Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn and today’s starter, Erik Bedard.
Since this is such a hot topic right now, I thought I’d just run Wakamatsu’s comments in their entirety:”

“I had a discussion with Joh, and we try to prioritize what’s most important for this club. Getting hits is not the number-one thing. Winning ball games is, and having a belief system with the starting pitcher, and pitchers in general. Rob right now seems to have a strong relationship with the guys that he’s catching. Joh’s done a lot of things well. He’s throwing the ball extremely well. He’s raised his average.
“We’re predicated right now around pitching and defense, No. 1 pitching. If there’s a belief system Rob’s doing a better job with that, we’ll go with that. I’m not negating what Kenji can do. I guess as he starts to build a stronger relationship, getting back into it — the injuries have been a strong factor with that, him missing time and Rob being able to build that relationship while he was down. I told Kenji, too, as he builds that relationship back — he did it in spring training, he did it at the start of the year — it can swing the other way. No one’s chastizing anybody.”
I asked if building that “belief system” — one of Wakamatsu’s favorite phrases, if you haven’t gathered that already — was more difficult for Johjima because of the language issues.
“I’d say language-wise, yeah. But I’ve also seen it with Joh. I’ve seen him build that relationiship and engage. He’s had success with these guys in the past. He’s caught guys, whether it’s Batista, whether it’s Felix, whether it’s Bedard, these guys have had success with him. It’s just as a manager and a guy overseeing this club, you try to pair up the timing of it. Right now, Rob seems to be catching those guys well.”
And I asked him how much stock he puts in catchers’ ERA, which is heavily in Johnson’s favor. Johnson’s is 2.89, while Johjima’s is 4.87.
“I don’t think it’s a fair comparison, just because it’s not apples to apples. There’s no way you can really say it’s an absolute. That’s what we’re talking about with a relationship and a belief system; if it gets to a point there’s a marked difference, then you have to look at it, but as far as overall, catcher’s earned run average, I think that’s a very unfair statistic. If Rob catches Felix and Joh catches someone who has a much higher ERA, there’s no correlation. I think over a larger sampling it maybe has some validity.”
Or comparing the ERA with the same pitchers? “Yeah, but again, is it against the same lineup? Who’s hurt? It’s such an unfair deal. How we’re playing as a club at the time. It’s a nice stat to look at, but there’s not a great deal of validity in it.”
Does he talk to the pitchers about their comfort level with a particular catcher?
“We’ve talked about not having favoritism. What we’ve talked about lately is just the belief system. I don’t think there’s a huge difference in what’s being called and what’s being executed. That’s what we’re talking about with Joh. So much of it is body language. Whether Rob’s doing it better, I’m not saying that. I’m saying the results right now, because these guys are pitching well, it’s something you don’t want to break up. That’s not an attack on Joh and his ability. It’s just that when these guys are throwing well, you tend to go with the hot hand.”
How does he decide when it’s time to use Johjima?
“When I talked with Joh, I said Rob was hurt early in the year, he was hurt. Everybody wants to put ‘starting catcher, backup catcher.’ I said there’s going to be other opportunities. If someone gets banged up, he’s going to go in and catch and be the starting catcher again. To me, it’s about how effective we are at that time, and we’re going to go down that road no matter who it is.”
My interpretation of the whole thing: Johnson is going to keep on catching the Mariners’ “Big Three” in the foreseeable future.

Comments | Topics: Chris Woodward


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