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Severino, Montero strong backup C options

Special to MLB.com

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One of the decisions that Nationals manager Dave Martinez must make before the team breaks camp later this month is who will be the backup to starting catcher Matt Wieters.

That might be a tough decision for the first-year manager, judging from his comments Sunday before the Nationals' Grapefruit League game against the visiting Tigers at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The most likely candidates are veteran Miguel Montero or 24-year-old Pedro Severino. Martinez sees plenty of positives in both catchers.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One of the decisions that Nationals manager Dave Martinez must make before the team breaks camp later this month is who will be the backup to starting catcher Matt Wieters.

That might be a tough decision for the first-year manager, judging from his comments Sunday before the Nationals' Grapefruit League game against the visiting Tigers at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The most likely candidates are veteran Miguel Montero or 24-year-old Pedro Severino. Martinez sees plenty of positives in both catchers.

Montero is a 34-year-old non-roster invitee to Spring Training who split time last year with the Cubs and Blue Jays.

"He's a veteran guy. He knows what it takes to get ready," Martinez said of Montero, whom Martinez knows from his days as the Cubs' bench coach. "What I like is that he is very intuitive. He calls good games, he handles pitchers well. Miguel is a big-game player. He loves big moments, and I love that."

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Montero, who was the DH in Sunday's lineup vs. the Tigers, is a career .257 hitter with a .752 OPS. The 12-year veteran's most recent solid year at the plate was in 2015, when he hit 15 homers and had 53 RBIs. He was vocally critical of former Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta last June when he blamed Arrieta for allowing seven stolen bases in a loss to none other than the Nationals. Shortly after that outburst, Montero was designated for assignment by the Cubs although he had apologized to Arrieta and all seemed well between the batterymates.

Martinez dismisses the incident as water over the dam, so to speak.

"He loves to play and he loves to compete. That's who he is. Speaks his mind, and I'm OK with that," Martinez said. "He's a great teammate, he really is, regardless of what happened [in Chicago]. That's all forgotten about. So far the guys love him and he's doing well."

Entering Sunday, Montero had two hits in eight at-bats with two RBIs. Severino, who started behind the plate for the Nats' split squad that played the Mets in Port St. Lucie, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs on Sunday. While Martinez embraces Montero's experience and veteran leadership, he also likes what he sees in Severino, who is the Nationals' No. 15 prospect as rated by MLB Pipeline.

"He's doing well. From here, just keep learning how to call games, keep honing his catching skills," Martinez said of Severino. "I know he's working really hard with [bullpen coach] Henry [Blanco]. He's very athletic, and I like that."

Severino has been called up from the Minors in each of the past two seasons, playing in 17 games last year and 16 games in 2016. He has a career .246 batting average.

"We've got some pretty good options when it comes to catchers," Martinez said. "You have Wieters, now you have Miguel and Sevey, and Sevey's right there. Who knows, he could probably catch every day. I haven't made a decision on who's going to be on the team right now. But he's definitely in the mix. I like him a lot. He's young, he's athletic. I think eventually he'll hit enough."

Martinez said the amount of time the backup sees behind the plate in 2018 will depend on how healthy Wieters is as the season progresses.

"Wieters has to play. The plan is to keep him healthy," Martinez said. "I don't know what that number [of games] is going to be. He looks great, he's in great shape. He feels good, so the plan is to keep him as healthy as possible going into October."

Meanwhile, either Montero or Severino will be waiting in the wings.

Steve Dorsey is a contributor to MLB.com.

Washington Nationals, Miguel Montero, Pedro Severino