MILWAUKEE -- When Spring Training opened, the Reds' regular catching duties belonged to Tucker Barnhart, as they have since 2016. But as the switch-hitting Barnhart struggled offensively most of this season, backup Curt Casali has hit well and seen his playing time increase.
Friday's game against the Brewers marked Casali’s seventh start in the last 11 games. Reds manager David Bell confirmed what’s been perceived, that catching duties are being more split between the two with utility man Kyle Farmer remaining in the mix as the third catcher.
“I’ve talked to both guys,” Bell said. “The way I see it, I don’t know how the split is going to turn out. It may still be Tucker ends up getting 60-40, 70-30 or maybe at times it is closer to 50-50. The point I made is we want them to be the best catching corps there is in the game. Between the two of them, we want them to be as great as they can be combined.
"I think the demands of that position, knowing that we do have two guys that we trust and believe in, I think they can use that to their advantage. They’re not pacing themselves. They’re going out every day and giving everything they have, knowing they don’t have to play every single day.”
Barnhart, who is in the second year of his four-year, $16 million contract, entered Friday night batting .196/.297/.393 with five homers in 59 games -- a steep drop in his production over the last two seasons. Casali, who was acquired from the Rays for cash in a trade on May 31, 2018, was batting .280/.345/.458 in 45 games with all four of his homers coming in the past couple of weeks.
“I think it’s great,” Barnhart said of the change. “Curt and I both give our team a great chance to win. I think we complement each other well. I think we work extremely well together. We game plan as good or better than anybody for our pitching staff. I feel like we’ll both be fresh when we play. That’s something at the catching position that is tough to do at times. The staff of the team has a damn good chance of getting the absolute best out of the catching position no matter who is back there.”
Both catchers are well-regarded by the coaches and pitchers on the club and their abilities to call a game. Defensive metrics rank Barnhart higher in pitch framing, pop-time and Defensive Runs Saved. But the staff ERA is 2.89 when Casali catches compared to 3.88 for Barnhart.
Bell expected multiple factors to play into who catches a particular game, including whether it’s a day game following a night game. That’s why Barnhart will be the expected starter behind the plate on Saturday.
“Obviously as a competitor, I want to play,” Casali said. “I feel like I’ve done a good job, but at the end of the day, whoever David decides to roll with behind the plate, I have full faith it will be in the best interest of the club.”
Both catchers, and Bell, have credited catching/third-base coach J.R. House and the team’s scouting department for helping them improve and prepare for opponents.
“I’ve never seen two catchers work like they do during the course of the season,” Bell said. “We’re very careful not to overdo it, but when they do work, it’s really quality work. They’re working on things that immediately show up in the game, just with the way they’re receiving and they’re throwing.”
“Both of us, as well as Kyle, do something nearly every day, whether it’s light like a good long toss or in depth of throwing to bases and doing the framing routine about every single day,” Barnhart said. “It’s nice to see the benefits of it and translate it into the games.”
There is no personal catcher system for the starting pitchers, so either Barnhart or Casali could be assigned as a battery mate.
“We do all of our scouting together, so our two brains are combining and figuring out what we need to accomplish on a particular day depending on who is starting or potential bench guys that come out so we’re on the same page regardless,” Casali said. “Hopefully we’re in a position with whoever starts the game, finishes the game. If one of us has to come in, we’re not skipping a beat and on the same page for the pitcher who started the game.”