Pitchers & Catchers: The Battery, Part Two
Photo by Kate Joyce.
Two days after the interview I published Wednesday with Durham Bulls pitcher J. D. Martin and catcher Chris Gimenez, I asked Gimenez a few more questions about handling pitchers. I wanted to hear him talk about how he works with pitchers he doesn’t know as well as he knows Martin. I started out by asking Gimenez about Bulls right-handed starter Matt Buschmann, whom Gimenez had caught earlier that night (and who starts tonight against Pawtucket). Buschmann, unlike Martin, takes copious notes about every hitter he faces, and refers to the notes a great deal when he faces those hitters again.
Gimenez: [Buschmann and I] spent fifteen minutes stretching together [before the game] talking about each individual hitter. And we’d do it between innings in the dugout, too. But for me, I also have to hit. He’s sitting there thinking, “This is what I’m gonna do. This is what I’m gonna do.” But I might have to go hit, think about that situation, and then come back in the dugout and remember that.
Sobsey: Buschmann told me that he has a tendency to work too fast sometimes.
Gimenez: Exactly. Sometimes I’ll go into my crouch and I won’t give him a sign. He’s standing there looking at me: “I’m ready to go.” And I’m just sitting there smiling, just trying to break up the rhythm. I’ll take a slow walk out to the mound. I’ll just say some little thing. When he slows down he does a great job.
Buschmann is such a competitor, he wants to do well so badly. He loses focus on the hitter sometimes. He gets so mad at himself when he walks a guy or gives up a single that he thinks, “I’ve got to pick you off.” [Buschmann has an excellent pickoff move; he led the team this season with seven pickoffs, by far the most] That’s when he gets in trouble, so when he starts picking over a bunch of times, I’ll usually call timeout and go talk to him. He didn’t do it much tonight.
Sobsey: A lot of it is psychological, isn’t it?
Gimenez: Yeah. You’ve just got to calm guys down. They’re all competitors, they all want to do well. They just can’t let their emotions get the best of them. The more you keep guys grounded, the better off they’re going to be. There’s a lot of babysitting. Not with J. D., though. J. D.’s a man. He’s very accountable.
You have to know which guys, [whether] you can get into somebody, or if you have to be like, [kindergarten teacher voice] “Hey, man, you’re still really gooood.” It sucks, because inside, you’re like: “Throw the fricking ball!” But you’ve got realize that some guys will go off with their tail between their legs, and that’s it.
That’s why I like Kirby [Yates] so much, because he’s got that major-league type of attitude with hitters. Here’s the terminator: you hit it, you name it. It’s me versus you. I’m gonna give you my best stuff, and if it works out, there’s a good chance I’m gonna beat your butt right here. To me, that type of mentality from a pitcher goes a long way. It’s built for the back end of a bullpen, because you have to have a short memory, but a sharp one at the same time. [Yates] is a guy, I can get into him a little bit. He’s not gonna give me that, “Eff you! What do you mean?” attitude back. He’s just like, “You’re right, let’s do this. Whatever I was thinking about before is over with; I’m back onto what I need to do now. Let’s go out and make a pitch.”
Sobsey: You guys have been working on Kirby’s changeup. How’s it coming?
Gimenez: In Toledo, I called his changeup, and he looked at me like, WTF? I did it again, and he was like, Alright let’s do it. Boom: first changeup he’s ever thrown in a game to get an out. I felt it was the perfect pitch to throw at that time. He threw it perfectly. In that situation, it didn’t even have to be a good one. That’s how confident I felt about calling it. If we just throw this pitch right here, we’re good. Kirby was fired up. He just looks at me and goes, “EFF YEAH!” A little thing like that doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but the next thing you know, two or three saves ago, he threw the changeup about seven times. It ends up being a different type of pitch for him. He’s not just fastball-cutter. When he comes to spring training next year, he’s gonna have three nasty pitches, with the ability to throw a curve ball, too.
Sobsey: Obviously the pitcher makes the pitches, but you play a big role in how his outing goes. How much credit are you willing to take for a successful pitching outing?
Gimenez: [pauses, then tries to deflect credit of any kind] I’ll take a little bit of credit for it. But the pitcher has to make the pitch he needs to make.
A Bulls field staffer walks by. “Hey man,” he says to Gimenez. “You already won the Media Good Guy Award.” Gimenez laughs but offers, unprompted, five more minutes of thoughts on Bulls pitcher Mike Montgomery. I thank him for his time — he has given me over forty-five minutes over two days — and he says, “That’s why I won the award!”