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April 14, 2012 at 9:50 PM

Rapport between Noesi and Montero could be ongoing asset for Mariners

(Jesus Montero accepts congratulations after his bases-loaded double in the sixth. Photo by Getty Images).
The obvious angle in last night’s 4-0 win by the Mariners over Oakland was the Michael Pineda trade paying huge dividends, at least in this game. Hector Noesi pitched brilliantly, blanking Oakland on five hits over eight innings. In three previous major-league starts, Noesi had lasted 2 2/3 innings (vs. Tampa Bay on Sept. 21), 2 innings (vs. Tampa Bay on Sept. 26) and 3 innings (April 9 vs. Texas).
The first two of those were while with the Yankees, of course (and no, Jesus Montero didn’t catch either of them, even though he was in the majors at the time). This was just one start, but he looked in complete control tonight — aggressive, poised, mixing his pitches beautifully, and coaxing 14 fly-ball outs (nine of them infield popups), which Oakland manager Bob Melvin attributed to Noesi throwing a ball that was “rising and getting in on us a little quicker than we thought.”

I think Montero deserves some credit as well, and not just for his offensive contribution — his first two extra-base-hits of the season, a home run to center in the second, and a two-run, two-out double in the sixth. Those were nice, but for a guy whose catching skills have been demeaned from the get-go to coax the first shutout of the season by a Mariners pitcher — and Eric Wedge said Montero called the game himself — warrants praise. Yeah, he made a poor throw on Josh Donaldson’s stolen base, and that continues to be something he needs to work on. But I’m getting more convinced he’s not the disaster behind the plate we had been led to believe.
So it bears watching to see if Montero’s playing time at catcher begins to increase — particularly with the ongoing problems of Miguel Olivo, who went 0-for-3 tonight to drop his average to .121. I honestly don’t see how Wedge can keep from using Montero more at catcher in the coming weeks. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Montero catches frequently with Noesi pitching — perhaps not to the extent of being his “personal catcher,” but why not exploit their past history (they’ve been together in the Yankee farm system for several years) and obvious rapport.
Montero and Noesi had a playful exchange after he got Coco Crisp to get out of a jam in the eighth — the last batter he faced, as it turned out. Asked what Montero said, Noesi laughed and said, “I can’t tell you.”
But he did say the two agreed before the game to have fun.
“We said, ‘Let’s enjoy this. Talk to me, and I’ll talk to you back,’ ” Noesi said.
Montero confirmed the two were “on the same page. We did a great job together. I was saying, ‘You’ve got to go, got to go, get the outs, come on.’ Hector was amazing today. His fastball was unbelievable – fastball in, outside, it was amazing.”
Wedge believes there might be something to the rapport between Noesi and Montero.
“I think you’ve got to say there’s something there, because they have been together in the past. When you are a little more familiar with somebody, sometimes that does allow you to be a little more comfortable.”
Wedge said Montero “did a real nice job behind the plate.” The Mariners have won both times he’s caught, and he has acquitted himself pretty well. That bodes well for the future — as does Noesi’s strong effort tonight.

Comments | Topics: Jesus Montero


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