With Ruiz sidelined, Adams impressing behind the dish

April 15th, 2024

OAKLAND -- Whether he is in the lineup that day or not, is engaged. Attending pitchers meetings, studying scouting reports, communicating with his teammates -- the Nationals' backup catcher doesn’t take games off.

That dedicated approach has served Adams and the Nats well this week. Starting catcher Keibert Ruiz has missed the last five games because of the flu, and Adams has been behind the plate for four of them. He started the entire series at the Oakland Coliseum, including Sunday’s 7-6 loss.

“I know that I can count on him when we need him,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He’s getting an opportunity now to play a little bit more than usual, but he’s done a great job.”

Adams had appeared in three games this season when he got the start on Tuesday at San Francisco. MLB Pipeline's No. 19 Nationals prospect, Drew Millas, was called up from Triple-A Rochester to start on Wednesday, but he was optioned back to the Red Wings postgame when Ruiz thought he was making a turn. Ruiz felt worse by the series opener on Friday, though.

“It’s always being ready, no matter what,” Adams said. “Even days I’m not playing, treat that as the same game plan of how I want to look at hitters and try to develop my own scouting report.”

Adams caught the starts of right-hander Jake Irvin, left-hander MacKenzie Gore and righty Trevor Williams, as well as 13 calls to the bullpen this series. He and Gore worked together to tie Gore’s career-high 11 strikeouts, and Williams fanned seven batters (doubling his season total).

“Riley’s been great,” Gore said. “We’ve played together for a little bit now, everybody has, and if he needs to catch because Keibert’s sick, then he knows exactly what guys are good at and what they need to do.”

Since he was acquired by the Nationals from the Blue Jays at the 2021 Trade Deadline, Adams has immersed himself in the pitching staff. His involvement does not go unnoticed by his teammates, from the rotation to the bullpen.

“He’s always prepared,” said starter Patrick Corbin. “It’s probably not easy being a backup catcher most of the time. … He’s in all the meetings even when he’s not catching, he knows all the pitchers very well and goes over the reports. Guys are just as comfortable to throw with him as they are for Keibert. We’re lucky to have him.”

Echoed reliever Robert Garcia: “His attention to detail, he’s always watching the game, the communication part that he has with Keibert and the rest of the coaches -- he’s always ready. We see that as pitchers and we understand that he has a very good idea when he gets behind that plate and he’s engaged. That gives a lot of us confidence to know that he’s ready to go, he does a very good job of that.”

Adams’ bat has been an asset to the Nationals' lineup as well. He went 7-for-15 with three doubles and an RBI in the San Francisco and Oakland starts. Adams is coming off a 2023 season in which he posted career-best offensive numbers, but it was cut short in early September because of a fractured left hamate bone.

“I think his hitting [has been his biggest improvement],” said Corbin. “I hadn’t seen it much before he came over here, but his at-bats are competitive without really getting that many at-bats. I think that’s pretty unique to be able to do that. … It seems like he’s always coming up with a big hit or a home run.”

The Nationals are hopeful Ruiz will be able to return in the Dodgers series, which begins Monday evening in Los Angeles. Until then, Adams will be prepared.

“I never worry about Riley Adams,” Martinez said. “He’s ready to play every time I put him in the lineup.”