Tools of awareness
So this 10-game homestand closes out this afternoon with the final game against the Orioles, and quite a bit hinges on it, I suppose. First, this team doesn't want to completely kill the momentum it established by winning six of the first seven games at RFK - including the first two series wins of the year - by getting swept. That it would be to the team just up the B-W Parkway matters more to the fans, for sure, but this team isn't really in the mood to be swept, period.
Here's the lineup, and we'll get to some thoughts in a moment:
Lopez - 4
Guzman - 6
Zimmerman - 5
Church - 7
Kearns - 9
Belliard - 3
Flores - 2
Logan - 8
Bowie - 1
So with Micah Bowie in the rotation, I got to thinking about Brian Schneider (even though he's not catching today). Schneider came to spring training knowing he was going to have to learn a ton of different pitchers, breaking guys in, learning their stuff, teaching them the Nationals' gameplans, showing them what he knows about hitters.
So I asked him about it this morning.
"You got guys coming up here I haven't caught since spring training," he said. "It's tough, being able to talk to them about what's been working for them down there, to what might work here. Where to set up. What counts to get out there on the corners. There's a lot of things going on, but it's all about what's going to make them the most comfortable."
Before each game, Schneider, pitching coach Randy St. Claire and the starter that day sit down and discuss the "gameplan," which is basically how the Nationals will approach each hitter. "Don't throw this guy breaking stuff on the inside part of the plate," or, "This guy will chase a two-strike pitch in the dirt." That kind of thing.
Schneider is in a different position now than he has been in the past because it is his call about how to stick to the gameplan. Take last year. Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas Jr., Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio all felt they knew themselves better than Schneider did, and they had records against certain hitters, and Schneider would find them shaking him off quite a bit. Sometimes it worked out really well. When Ortiz took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Cardinals in September, he spent much of the afternoon shaking off Schneider.
Now, though, the staff has so little familiarity with both the hitters and the majors, Schneider is driving the train a lot more. It's allowing him to develop as a game-caller.
"I don't know if I'm better at it," he said. "I've always had confidence in the stuff I put down, but it allows me to work hitters that I know. I know what the gameplan is, and I know I'm going to stick with the gameplan. Every now and then, I'll go away from the gameplan. Sometimes it's by mistake, sometimes it's because I see something that the hitter's doing. If I have confidence in someone's off-speed pitch, and it's 1-2, I'll throw a pitch with purpose to set up the next pitch. If these guys aren't shaking me off, I know what the next pitch is going to be, so if I want to set a pitch up, I can. It feels good. Sometimes it's frustrating when you think you got a guy set up, and the pitcher doesn't want to throw it. Of course, sometimes a guy shakes me off and they strike him out. It works both ways, but I think in general it's nice when he's just going with me."
"It's kind of fun, because these guys are trusting me a lot. We go back in between innings, we talk about some things, and they're telling me, 'Whatever you want, man, I'm throwing it.'"
But with the revolving door, he's also having to adjust on the fly. During Mike Bacsik's impressive six-inning outing last night - when he didn't allow a run - Schneider didn't learn what he needed to know about Bacsik's changeup (that it was running a bit) until the second or third inning.
Then, there are the practical matters.
"It's been tough," he said. "The other day, I didn't say 'Hi' to Traber until he was on the mound."
Something to keep in mind as you watch he and the pitching staff work on the upcoming seven-game road trip.
Enjoy the afternoon.
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