Can Jesus Montero catch? He’s motivated to show he can

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PEORIA, Ariz. – There are some who say Jesus Montero will never be a quality major league catcher.

Analysts who rush to praise his quick, powerful bat are equally quick to pan his defensive skills. His receiving is poor, his footwork worse, they say. He’s too big (6-3, 235), and not athletic enough to play the position. His arm, while strong, takes too long to release the ball. It goes on and on, and there are numbers to back it up, as he has thrown out only 21 percent of base-stealers over the course of five minor leagues seasons.

Montero, the 22-year-old Venezuelan who the Seattle Mariners acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Michael Pineda, has heard the criticisms. He understands it, but he’s not buying into it. Montero says he’s been catching since he was 4 years old, and he’s certainly not ready to change positions. He loves the challenges that come from the position, the ability to control the game from behind the dish, to help his pitcher through the rough spots. He’s eager to prove his critics wrong, to show that he can be that rare breed of catcher that is equally proficient behind the plate as he is in the batter’s box.

“Most catchers don’t hit but they control the game, they know how to catch,” Montero said on Tuesday in the Mariners clubhouse. “Sometimes you have to give something away so you can catch or you can hit. But if you can do all that together you can be amazing like (Jorge) Posada, you know?”

(Listen to Montero talk about his desire to prove his doubters wrong) 

Montero draws inspiration from Posada, his former Yankees teammate who retired this offseason after 17 years in New York. Posada was never known as a great defensive catcher, but he was good enough to log 1,574 games there for the Yankees, more than 86 percent of his starts.

“If I see a big example in front of my face, it was Posada,” he said. “I want to be like him. We were together a lot. He taught me a lot.”

Montero projects to be an even better hitter than Posada, but what about the defense? Can he become good enough at the position to make the Mariners comfortable keeping him there? It’s certainly worth a try, as big-hitting catchers are hard to find. The Mariners acknowledge that Montero has some work to do to become proficient defensively, but they’re working hard to do just that.

“He’s a talented young man and we’re very happy to have him,” said third base coach Jeff Datz, who is also charged with working with Mariners catchers. “There is work to be done with him, as with all our other catchers. We like his size, we like the body, and there’s arm strength there, obviously a lot of ability to work with. Yes, he needs some cleaning up in certain areas, and we’re going through that process right now with him and with our other catchers.”

Montero is expected to be primarily a DH this season, spelling starting catcher Miguel Olivo behind the plate for 20-40 games. Olivo, for his part, preaches patience, pointing out that he also reached the big leagues in his early 20s and admitting that it took him “2 ½-3 years to really realize what I need to do behind the plate.”

 (Listen to Miguel Olivo talk about what Montero must do to improve)

 

“He’s young and he can hit already. That’s not a problem,” Olivo said. “He needs to get better at receiving and blocking, and communicate more with the pitchers. It takes time, though. I had the same problems. … That’s the thing he needs to go through now. Maybe a couple years, one year and he’ll be ready to do it.”

Montero said he’s ready for the challenge. He speaks calmly and confidently. He doesn’t seem upset by his critics, but admits that they motivate him.

“I just want to get more opportunities to catch and show everybody that I can catch,” he said. “I did it in Triple-A. I hope I can do it here, too, to help my pitchers like I did in the minors. I’m gonna work hard day-by-day to help my team. That’s it.”

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And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Indians 15, Rangers 9: The Rangers took a 4-0 lead after one, a 7-1 lead after two and had a 9-2 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth before the Indians decided to wake up and score 13 unanswered runs. Francisco Lindor, Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana each had three RBI as the Indians scored a run in the fourth, four in the fifth, five in the sixth and added three in the seventh. Cleveland set their season high in runs and tied their season best with 19 hits. Every starter except Kipnis had at least two hits. They also regained first place in the central because . . .

Red Sox 4, Twins 1: Chris Sale outpitched Jose Berrios, allowing one run and striking out nine while working into the seventh inning. The Sox got to Berrios early with two in the first, including a Mitch Moreland homer. It was his third straight game with a dong.

Cubs 5, Nationals 4: It was only a 2-0 game heading into the ninth when the Cubs piled on three insurance runs. They needed all of the insurance as the Nats scored four in the bottom half. Close —Wade Davis had to struck out Ryan Zimmerman with runners on second and third to end the game — but no cigar. Willson Contreras hit a leadoff homer. Catchers don’t lead off that much. Jason Kendall used to do it a lot. Kurt Suzuki and John Jaso have. I feel like Russell Martin did a fair amount. But it’s not common. You could probably take all of the catchers who have batted leadoff more than ten times a year in the past 25 years, put them in a Volkswagon Vanagon with the Westphalia camper mod and still have a lot of room leftover for bikes and stuff.

Diamondbacks 6, Phillies 1: Zack Greinke wasn’t efficient — he needed 102 pitches to make it through five innings — but the Phillies got bubkis off of him regardless. Left fielder Chris Herrmann homered and walked with the bases loaded to drive in two. Daniel Delscalso drove in three with a pair of RBI singles.

Cardinals 8, Reds 2: Randal Grichuk homered for the second straight game. He had been in the minors until this past Sunday, spending about a month down there after being demoted for poor play. In his two games since coming back up he’s 4-for-10 with two homers and four RBI. Jedd Gyorko homered too. Michael Wacha, who has been terrible recently, allowed only one run on five hits in six innings. The Reds bein’ kinda interesting and frisky seems like a million years ago.

Yankees 6, White Sox 5: The Yankees had a 6-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. They held on to win, but the Sox made it interesting, scoring four runs off of Chasen Shreve — who gave up a three-run shot to Tim Anderson — and Aroldis Chapman, who gave up an RBI double. Tyler Austin homered and the bottom third of the Yankees order — Chase Headley, Austin Romine and Ronald Torreyes — each knocked in a run.

Giants 9, Rockies 2: San Francisco snaps a five-game skid overall and a nine-game skid against the Rockies as Jeff Samardzija struck out five and worked into into the seventh. Buster Posey hit an RBI double. Brandon Belt and Denard Span each hit RBI triples. Colorado now, just recently the talk of the league, has dropped six straight. They’ve been outscored 57-17 in those losses.

Angels 4, Dodgers 0: Another skid was snapped: the Dodgers’ ten-game winning streak. Doing the snapping was Ricky Nolasco, who snapped a winless streak of ten starts. Nolasco shut out the Dodgers into the seventh inning, only to be knocked out by a comebacker that hit his shin. He’s fine. For the Dodgers, the silver lining here was that Rich Hill pitched seven innings. He lost, but it was the first time he made past five innings all year.

Rockies acquire Zac Rosscup from Cubs

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The Rockies announced a minor swap of relief pitchers on Monday evening. The Cubs sent lefty Zac Rosscup to the Rockies in exchange for right-hander Matt Carasiti.

Rosscup, 29, was designated for assignment by the Cubs last Thursday. He spent only two-thirds of an inning in the majors this year and has a 5.32 career ERA across 47 1/3 innings. Rosscup has spent most of the season with Triple-A Iowa, posting a 2.60 ERA in 27 2/3 innings.

Carasiti, 25, spent 15 2/3 innings in the majors last year, putting up an ugly 9.19 ERA. With Triple-A Albuquerque this season, he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 43/13 K/BB ratio in 30 1/3 innings.