Suzuki's MRI clean; Gomes steps up

Nationals call up No. 18 prospect Barrera for catching depth

September 8th, 2019

ATLANTA -- The Nationals received some encouraging news about catcher on Sunday when his MRI came back clean, revealing inflammation in his right elbow. It was the best-case scenario manager Dave Martinez had hoped for after Suzuki, who turns 36 next month, was removed from Saturday night’s loss in the eighth inning after he felt what he described as some “tingling and zings” in his elbow after a throw to second base.

Suzuki is considered day to day and will spend the next few days, including Monday’s off-day, resting and getting treatment with the hope of returning to the lineup soon.

“It has to be right. It has to be OK,” Suzuki said prior to Sunday’s 9-4 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park. “I just kind of get treatment and take it day by day. Obviously, we’re going to be smart about it, but not much time left, coming down to the end, obviously in a playoff chase, I want to be out there. So, like I said, it has to be OK.”

Washington certainly hoped so, considering how thin the team could suddenly become at catcher if Suzuki has to miss any extended period of time.

In 301 plate appearances this season, Suzuki is hitting .260/.319/.473 with 16 homers, a 97 OPS+ and some huge moments, even if he has only been worth 0.2 Wins Above Replacement per Baseball Reference. But Suzuki has been far more productive offensively than , the other member of the team’s catching tandem.

Gomes responded in his first start since Suzuki’s injury on Sunday, swatting a pair of solo home runs, his first multihomer game since 2017.

“I think it’s just the mentality both of us have right now,” Gomes said. “I was brought up being told that being a catcher you got to worry about your pitching staff, getting them through games. Anything you do offensively are pluses, and both of us have tried to get this pitching staff through some games. We come out with the win and no matter what, we did our job. But putting some numbers up offensively, it’s always a plus for sure.”

Gomes has 295 plate appearances this season with a slash line at .217/.315/.364 and nine home runs, and he began the day Sunday with a 66 OPS+, although he has been worth 0.8 WAR. Both Gomes and Suzuki have graded out as negative pitch framers, according to Baseball Prospectus, but Gomes still owns a significant edge (-1.1 framing runs above average compared to -9.4 FAA for Suzuki, the 10th worst among Major League catchers).

The Nationals have been fortunate this season with the health of their two veteran catchers, who were brought in during the offseason to revive a position that has not been productive in Washington for years. Either Suzuki or Gomes has started each of the Nationals’ 141 games this season, a streak they’d like to keep intact as they try and secure their spot in the postseason.

Barrera receives first big league callup
was watching college football on Saturday night, upset because the University of Texas -- where he played college baseball -- was losing to Louisiana State University, when he got the call from Double-A Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy.

What followed was an experience Barrera described as surreal. There were tears. He packed for a 6 a.m. flight the next morning to Atlanta. The Harrisburg season and playoff run had just ended earlier in the day Saturday. That still hadn’t hit him yet and now he was headed to the big leagues.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Barrera said inside the visitors’ clubhouse Sunday morning. “It’s every kid’s dream.”

Barrera was called up as a third catcher and insurance with Suzuki’s health up in the air. was moved to the 60-day injured list with right elbow inflammation to create room on the roster. Barrera, the Nats’ No. 18 prospect as rated by MLB Pipeline, made the Eastern League All-Star team with Harrisburg and hit .249/.323/.381 in 101 games this year.

“It was crazy, still couldn’t believe it,” Barrera said. “Tears were everywhere, everybody was so happy.”