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HomeSportsPatrick Corbin may have a new regular catcher in Riley Adams

Patrick Corbin may have a new regular catcher in Riley Adams

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DENVER — Why a pitcher likes throwing to a catcher — or why a pitcher’s numbers are better when a certain catcher is behind the plate — isn’t always explainable. Feel and relationships can trump the need to quantify, quantify, quantify. Sometimes superstition is at play, too. For example, when told Patrick Corbin was happy with his work in recent starts, Riley Adams raised an eyebrow, smiled and asked: “He said that?”

Yeah, he did. And so did Manager Dave Martinez, who has seemed on the verge of writing “Patrick Corbin’s personal catcher” on the nameplate above Adams’s locker.

“That’s interesting,” continued Adams, who is 25 and in his first full season as a big leaguer. “I mean, I don’t know. I really like catching Pat. I think we’ve found a good rhythm in the few times I’ve been back there for him. That’s really all I can say about it.”

That last part was not because of some code of secrecy. Adams actually meant that, on the topic of clicking with Corbin, there isn’t a ton to dissect.

The early returns, though, suggest otherwise. Corbin has made six starts and has a 7.16 ERA. In 19⅓ innings throwing to Adams, the lefty has allowed seven earned runs, struck out 15 and walked five, including an eight-inning complete game against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Wednesday. In 8⅓ innings throwing to Keibert Ruiz, the team’s unquestioned starter, he has allowed 15 earned runs, struck out 11 and walked eight, including a loss to the front-running New York Mets on Opening Day and a disastrous outing against the San Francisco Giants on April 22.

Advanced metrics say Ruiz is a notably better pitch framer than Adams. On top of that, Adams, a big catcher at 6-foot-4, is an odd fit for a starter who likes to pound his slider into the dirt. Adams admitted it can be “challenge to block the low pitches, given my size, but you make any adjustment to help the team.”

“He works hard. He’s willing to learn. He’s in all the meetings, even on days he’s not catching,” Corbin said Wednesday night in Denver. “He’s pretty smart back there; he knows the hitters, knows the pitchers. And I think he’s done a good job just mixing up my pitches, using change-ups, pitching inside, things like that. I don’t know if there’s one reason.”

The only certainty here is that there probably isn’t. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how or if Martinez can pair Corbin and Adams, who has typically played about once a week behind Ruiz. The three games Adams has caught Corbin — against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Miami Marlins and Rockies — were part of day-night turnaround. Ruiz and Adams almost uniformly will split those, making it easy for Martinez to test this new connection.

Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz, at the beginning

Yet since the start of spring training, it has been clear Ruiz will get the bulk of starts between the two. He was the centerpiece of the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer. He could grow into a franchise cornerstone. On Thursday, in a 9-7 loss to the Rockies, Ruiz lined a homer to the second deck in right and punched an RBI double. Adams knows his role, too, explaining how it has forced him to be extra involved in scouting meetings.

“It’s definitely different for me, but I have to gather as much information as I can when I’m not playing,” he said. “If I don’t have the luxury of seeing hitters while catching, I need to be watching video on them the day before I start. If I can go catch a side session for a reliever or starter, I want to do that. I try to be in every pregame session with pitchers and Keibert and the coaches. It’s as much as I can do behind the scenes so I’m ready to go in.”

Familiarity can go a long way, especially with calling games and using pitch shapes to dictate framing. That’s part of why Yan Gomes caught every one of Corbin’s starts in 2019 and 2020 and Martinez mostly used Kurt Suzuki with Max Scherzer in those same years.

Corbin, 32, has struggled for two-plus seasons. Getting him on track remains one of the team’s biggest challenges. If, then, he feels comfortable pitching to Adams and the Nationals can fit a loose pairing into the general framework of their plans, it’s worth a shot. Sure, repeatedly sacrificing good offensive matchups for Ruiz could be a complicating factor. Yet if Washington could choose a trade-off for that, wouldn’t an improved Corbin be near the top of the list, no matter whether it can put its thumb on why Adams helps him get there?

“They work,” Martinez said when asked for his take on Corbin and Adams. “… I think Riley gives him a bigger target. He’s just a big guy. But they communicate; they come in after every inning, they talk, they sit in there, they’re watching videos. … In five days, we’ll look at everything. But I like what Riley is doing with Patrick right now.”

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