Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia getting to know Marlins pitchers
JUPITER, Fla. — If Miami Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia seems extra chatty this spring training, there’s a reason for it.
Saltalamacchia, who signed a three-year contract during the offseason, inherits a young pitching staff that posted the lowest ERA (3.71) in club history last season.
"At this point, just trying to develop a relationship with them," Saltalamacchia said. "We’re all here for a reason. We all know how to play baseball, we have coaches that do all the teaching and we’ve got to go out there and perform."
The 28 year old spent the past four seasons in Boston — even winning a World Series title in 2013. Now, he must get to know his new teammates.
Last season with the Red Sox, Saltalamacchia watched Miami ace Jose Fernandez on the clubhouse TVs. He was so impressed by what he saw his decision during free agency was that much easier.
When pitchers and catchers reported on Sunday, Saltalamacchia dived right in, catching the National League Rookie of the Year’s first bullpen session. He immediately could tell they would click. The same thing happened with John Lackey in Boston.
"There’s guys in the game that are easy to catch because they can throw any pitch at any time," Saltalamacchia said. "The guys that are fun to catch and easy because they’re open-minded to throwing offspeed pitches in fastball counts."
But it’s not all about pitches and location. A catcher must also serve as part-therapist.
He must help his pitchers’ off-the-field tendencies translate into improved performances on the mound. How he should handle a specific player during an outing is usually decided over non-baseball conversations.
No matter the setting for Saltalamacchia’s questions — from breakfast to the weight room — the relationship develops.
"It’s like anything else. You get to know the person, you get to know their demeanor, their attitude, personality, family," Saltalamacchia said. "At the end of the day we’re not robots. We all have family, we all are human. If you get to know people and relate to them you can know what they’re going through in a day and how to deal with them.
"It just makes you bond on a bigger level rather than just saying, ‘Hey throw a fastball, do this.’"
After returning from a broken collarbone, backup catcher Jeff Mathis recorded a 3.15 catcher’s ERA over 73 games in 2013. His presence is largely credited for the staff’s success (11th-best ERA in majors).
Just two days into camp, Mathis, 30, hasn’t had much time to give Saltalamacchia thorough scouting reports on the pitchers.
Mathis emphasized the importance of connecting with all 12 guys and not just one or two, gaining each player’s trust to maximize success. He believes Saltalamacchia has an advantage with the catching experience surrounding him — from himself to manager Mike Redmond to bench coach Rob Leary.
"I think he’ll be fine," Mathis said. "Salty seems like he’s a knowledgeable guy and a great guy to get to know. He’s going to be fine."
Redmond, a big-league catcher for 13 years, agreed.
"I think it’s just a comfort level for him," Redmond said. "It just takes time. You’re not going to get it all done in one day. It’s not a week thing. It’s going to take time. As a catcher you can only do so much, you can only catch so many guys in a day before your legs come off."
On Monday, Saltalamacchia caught right-hander Jacob Turner, who looks to lock down the fourth spot in the Marlins rotation. Following the session, the pair talked for a couple of minutes as teammates continued with their bullpen sessions.
Saltalamacchia admitted it will be several months before he’s fully comfortable with each pitcher and vice versa. After all, he’s part of a new organization with new faces. It takes time to get acclimated.
"Honestly it’ll probably be going into June, July, and I’m still learning stuff about these guys," Saltalamacchia said. "As far as a crash course goes, spring training is going to be really, really important for me to do that. By opening day, I know we’ll be on the same page and working together, but to have that full chemistry and all that stuff — it happens at different stages.
"Nothing’s better than when a pitcher and catcher click and you’re on the same page, especially with the talent we have in this clubhouse. We’re not going to go anywhere without our starting pitching. It all starts and ends with those guys. It’s important to have that relationship."