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: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Blue Jays 10, Padres 1: Cavan Biggio had three hits, including his first career home run, giving the Biggio family 292 combined career homers. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a homer too. He, his brother Yulieski and their father Lourdes Gurriel Sr. have a combined 299, depending on how much credence you want to give to Cuban stats from the 1970s-90s when dad played. No matter the exact number their dad was amazing, jack. He substantially outhit both Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi head-to-head in amateur play back in the day, even though he was older than Bonds and much older than Giambi. He would’ve been a certified stud in the majors. Vlad Guerrero Jr. had three hits on the day. He and his dad have a combined 2,610 hits now. Justin Smoak hit two homers. I have no idea if his dad ever hit any. For all I know he’s a dentist or a tool and die guy or something.

Can’t wait until the Jays call up Dante Bichette’s kid, Bo Bichette, and every recap of their games is about dads. Dads rule.

Mets 4, Tigers 3: The homer explosion in baseball over the past few years has drastically increased the percentage of runs scored via the longball. Which, as a guy who does recaps and tends to focus on the runs that are scored, I must admit it makes things somewhat . . . boring at times. Or at lease repetitive. But it is what it is, and if you write about what happens in games you gotta write about what, you know, happened.

Unless you’re the AP beat writer who covered this game, in which case you spend the first 178 words of a 500-word story talking about Todd Frazier dropping down a bunt against the shift. It was a pretty nifty bunt — it scored the Mets’ first run of the game — but given that two batters later Adeiny Hechavarría hit a three-run homer that brought the Mets back from behind and gave them what proved to be the game’s winning runs, it seems, I dunno, a bit unrepresentative. I get it. I really do. It’s more fun to talk about a bunt-against-the-shift in which the “long-time pro” “cleverly” pushed that punt into right field than it is the 10,000th home run of the past week, but I feel like you gotta give Hechavarría his props there before you go on about wily veterans doing wily veteran things. Anyway: New York takes two out of three from the Tigers and wins the sixth of seven overall.

Twins 7, White Sox 0: Jake Odorizzi tossed one-hit, shutout ball into the sixth, striking out nine, and the Twins’ powerful lineup continued to be powerful, with Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario each hitting three-run homers. Minnesota sweeps Chicago for the team’s seventh series sweep this year. They’ve won 11 of their past 12 games too and have built a big lead in their division because . . .

Rays 6, Indians 3: . . . Cleveland kinda stinks. Trevor Bauer‘s struggles continue. He coughed up four runs on five hits in six innings while the Rays’ bullpenning brigade shut Cleveland out until eighth, by which time Tampa Bay was up 5-0. Austin Meadows, meanwhile, led off the game with a home run and was 4 for 4 with three RBI and the Rays took three of four from the Tribe. Cleveland is now at .500, a full ten games — 10! — behind the Twins. I guess allowing the team to get worse in the offseason because they felt like the division was gonna be a cakewalk isn’t working out all that well for the Indians, huh?

Nationals 9, Marlins 6: On Friday I observed on Twitter that if the Marlins win streak were to continue against the Nats and Washington were to get swept out of this series that it’d be a mortal certainty that Dave Martinez would get fired. That hypothesis was not tested as the Nats have taken the first three games of this four-game set. Here Howie Kendrick homered, had three hits and drove in three. If you want to look for a the gray lining on this otherwise fluffy white cloud, note that while Washington built up a 9-0 lead, the bullpen coughed up six runs in the final two innings which is not what you want.

Dodgers 11, Pirates 7: Justin Turner had five hits and scored three times, Matt Beaty had four RBI, and Corey Seager homered and drove in two and Joc Pederson went deep as well. The Dodgers scored six runs in the sixth. Two of them came via back-to-back bases loaded plunkings. I guess what I’m saying is that the Buccos’ pitchers weren’t exactly sharp in this one. L.A. sweeps Pittsburgh in three.

Red Sox 4, Astros 1: Eduardo Rodríguez allowed a first inning run but that’s all he allowed in six innings of work as he outdueld Justin Verlander. The Sox didn’t exactly pummel JV — Rafael Devers homered but the other runs came on an error, a groundout and a sac fly — but they did enough. The win allowed Boston to avoid a sweep. The season series between these two is over, with Houston taking four of six. Wouldn’t be shocking to see them meet in the playoffs once again.

Brewers 9, Phillies 1: Brandon Woodruff allowed a solo homer in the sixth but was otherwise perfect — like, literally perfect; no hits, walks, runs or errors — in eight innings of work. If not for that dinger he’d almost certainly have come out for the ninth given that he was only at 97 pitches. No need for that here, of course, as the Brewers’ bats gave him nine runs of support. Ben Gamel had two homers, Hernan Pérez, Yasmani Grandal and Christian Yelich also went deep. Yelich’s was his major league-leading 21st home run on the year. Gamel now has four homers in his first year in Milwaukee. That puts him two homers behind Mat Gamel on the Brewers’ All-Time Gamel home run list.

Royals 8, Yankees 7: The Royals had a 7-1 lead after five and blew it, with a three-run ninth inning rally capped off by a two-run RBI single from Aaron Hicks forcing extras. Yankees reliever Jonathan Holder failed to live up to his name in the 10th, though, as he walked Billy Hamilton — and, really, who the hell walks Billy Hamilton? — who then did the obvious thing and stole second base. With two down in the inning Whit Merrifield came to the plate and scored Hamilton for the walkoff win.

Merrifield got an eat-the-third-baseman-alive bounce on this one, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good:

Reds 10, Cubs 2: Bad day for the Cubbies. Both because of the loss and because Kris Bryant — starting in right field — collided with center fielder Jason Heyward as the two converged to catch a fly ball. Neither caught it and a run scored but, more importantly, Bryant had to leave the game and now he’s on concussion watch. Nick Senzel had three hits and scored four times for the Reds. Eugenio Suárez finished with two hits and three RBI and Joey Votto banged out a couple of hits as well. Tanner Roark tossed five shutout innings and the Reds too two of three from the Cubs in Wrigley.

Rockies 8, Orioles 7: Colorado scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to come from behind and snag the walkoff win. The first run of the ninth came on a bases-loaded walk to Ian Desmond, which again, who walks Ian Desmond? The second run came on a sac fly from Tony Wolters which, hey, you load the bases and you don’t have much margin for error. Before all of that Nolan Arenado homered for the third straight game and Rockies starter German Márquez tripled and drove in three runs on the day. The triple was kind of a cheapie, if such a thing exists, as the O’s had pulled the outfield way in against him and he just lofted one to the wall and trotted in to third without a play. Colorado takes two of three from Baltimore.

Athletics 7, Mariners 1: Brett Anderson allowed one run while pitching into the seventh, leading the A’s to a three-game sweep of the M’s. Matt Chapman and Josh Phegley hit bombs. Oakland has won nine in a row. Though, actually, that winning streak could later be taken away because in the middle of it is a suspended game against the Tigers which they could end up losing when they finish it later this year. It’s the closest thing baseball has to time travel. 

Diamondbacks 6, Giants 2: Arizona came into this series on a five-game losing streak and swept the Giants in three. Here they sent San Francisco to its fifth straight loss. Ketel Marte homered and Eduardo Escobar had three hits. Rookie Mike Yastrzemski had three hits. I was at one of his minor league games a couple of years ago and a guy behind me said “ah, it’s Carl Yastrzemski’s son.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was his grandkid. Life comes at you fast and all of that, but jeez, Carl Yastrzemski is gonna turn 80 this summer.

Holy crap. I’ve seen a guy who is almost 80 play in person. He’s not the only one who’s old.

Angels 7, Rangers 6: Texas had a 5-1 lead heading into the seventh when the Angels put up a six-spot. Mike Trout homered early and then doubled in a run and scored on a wild pitch in the Halos’ big seventh. Two runs scored on wild pitches in that inning, in fact, both by Kyle Dowdy. L.A. took two of three from Texas.

Braves 4, Cardinals 3: This one has to hurt if you’re a Cards fan. St. Louis took a 3-0 lead into the ninth and Jordan Hicks came out to get the easiest of all saves. He couldn’t record a single out, though, and ended up being charged with three runs. The third run came when Ozzie Albies singled to conclude a ten-pitch at bat against Shelby Miller in which he fouled off pitch after pitch.  In the tenth Tyler Webb put two on — one via an unintentional walk — and then Mike Shildt called for an intentional walk of rookie Austin Riley to load the bases. Next batter up was Brian McCann who, yep, walked to force in the go-ahead run. Atlanta takes two of three from the Cards. They’ve won 12 of 16 overall. They’re a game and a half behind the Phillies.