Jesus Montero tonight is about to have a career first: he has never started three consecutive games in three days behind home plate. In fact, Montero rarely caught consecutive games on two straight days for gthe Mariners last season.
Montero did catch in three straight games in three days last year from April 30 to May 2. But he started the first of those games as the designated hitter and only entered behind the plate late after an injury to Miguel Olivo in a 12-inning affair at Tampa Bay.
There is a difference. It’s both a mental and physical grind for a catcher to work multiple days in a row and manager Eric Wedge wants to see how it looks early on so that he’ll have a better idea how to proceed with the season. Kelly Shoppach will catch tomorrow’s day game, but for now, this is new ground Montero will break.
Wedge himself wasn’t sure this afternoon during his media conference whether Montero had ever caught three straight games, but thought that he had “maybe one time” – which is where the distinction over that Rays series comes in.
I asked him what elements of Montero’s game he’s going to scrutinize, given that the catcher last season tended to come unraveled a bit whenever he caught on consecutive days.
“I’ve been very consistent talking about it, it’s the mental and the physical side of things first and foremost. It’s not a matter of whether he can do it fundamentally, or perform back there. It’s just the mental and the physical part of it, which is very underrated, I think, when it comes to the catcher. Especially, in particular, what I’m looking for and what I want to see back there.
“He’s shown great energy. He’s working hard. He has some presence back there now, which is something we didn’t see earlier in the spring, that we’re seeing now. And it looks like he’s having fun.”
If you look at the video below, you’ll see some of what Wedge was talking about in regards to Montero earlier this spring being somewhat shy at taking charge compared to fellow catchers Shoppach and Class AAA prospect Mike Zunino. The video is short, but drives home the point.
Anyhow, like Wedge said, Montero worked on this aspect of his game all spring and is now said to be improved at it.
He hasn’t been tested at all by any base-stealers the first two games, largely because the A’s have barely had any baserunners. In contrast, Montero’s catching mate from last season, John Jaso, has given up three steals in three attempts so far — two by Michael Saunders last night and one by Brendan Ryan the other night. The first two steals saw the runners easily beat the throws — Ryan’s came with a left-handed pitcher throwing, which is supposed to add to his degree of difficulty — while Jaso didn’t bother throwing on the third attempt after an off-speed pitch.
Jaso is sitting tonight when lefty Joe Saunders on the mound and right-handed hitter Derek Norris is behind the plate.
Neither Jaso nor Montero drew rave reviews for their catching last year and the Mariners were actually fearful of using either two in consecutive games. So, we’ll see what happens with Montero tonight. Saunders had a rought spring and the Mariners could see more baserunners tonight, so there could be an attempted track meet in-store and Montero will have to be up to the challenge.
It’s not just the defensive part of Montero’s game that will be closely watched. He’s gone 1-for-9 (.121) at the plate the first two games and the one concern the team has is that too much catching might distract him from his hitting.
“You have to stay on top of it,” Wedge said. “That’s why it’s such a tough position. Baseball players, it’s more of a multi-skill sport than any other sport out there and you can even add to that when you talk about being a catcher. So, you’ve got to have an awareness about everything and what’s going on back there. Or, in his game in general.”
As for tonight’s lineup, Wedge has Jason Bay and Robert Andino in there against left-hander Tommy Milone. Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley are sitting for now, leaving Kyle Seager as the lone left-handed hitter in the lineup.
Milone actually has better platoon splits against right-handers than lefties. Right-handers are hitting for only a .728 OPS off him compared to a .769 OPS by left-handers.
But Wedge said the lineup tonight is about getting players in the game while he has the chance. Some haven’t played since last weekend in Salt Lake City.