Asked Tuesday morning about his plans for Carlos Maldonado, the Nationals’ third different backup catcher in the last four days, manager Davey Johnson was succinct.
“Keep him healthy,” Johnson said. “… We’re fortunate that we have a lot of depth at catching, but this is getting ridiculous.”
It is indeed, and the veteran Maldonado is the latest beneficiary.
He replaced Sandy Leon, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a high sprain in his right ankle Tuesday, a little more than 12 hours after making his major league debut. Leon had been called up Sunday to replace Wilson Ramos after the Nats’ starter tore the ACL in his right knee. Ramos was transferred from the 15- to 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Maldonado.
The 33-year-old is back in the majors for the first time since a 2010 stint with the Nationals (he previously spent time with Pittsburgh in 2006-07). He has served as a mentor to his fellow Venezuelan Leon, and had been excited to hear that his protegee was called to the majors.
“He called me and gave me the news that he was getting called up and I talked to him a lot and then he texted me [Monday], too, with what happened,” Maldonado said. “He didn’t know that I was going to get called up yet. After I talked to him and I told him I was going to get called up, he was excited. But it was his first game in the big leagues and he got hurt, so I feel bad for him. He’s a great guy. He’s a great kid.”
Maldonado got the call Monday night while on a bus from Syracuse to Columbus, Ohio. He had to wait out the remainder of a nine-hour bus ride, then get his gear together before catching an early flight to D.C. Did he get any sleep?
“Not much, but it was worth it.”
Maldonado has a .185 career average in limited big league time, but has some pop with three homers in 25 career games. He was hitting .211 with six doubles, two homers and six RBI in 21 games at Syracuse. But the Nationals most value him for his leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff, which drew raves from Johnson.
“He handled the staff as good as anybody, probably the best, in the spring,” Johnson said. “We’re fortunate we have that many quality receivers in the system.”
Johnson and the Nats would prefer not to test that depth any more than they already have this year.
– A day after pulling Henry Rodriguez from the game with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning, Johnson reaffirmed his faith in the struggling closer.
“Pitchers can have ups and downs, like hitters can have a slump. Pitchers go through that, too, especially young hard-throwers,” Johnson said. “My job, the main thing is to keep the pressure off and not have him feel like he’s got the weight of this ballclub on his shoulders. He doesn’t. He’s done a good job.”
But don’t look for Rodriguez to get the call if the Nats find themselves with a save situation Tuesday. After a rough couple of days that included surrendering a walk-off grand slam to Joey Votto in Cincinnati on Sunday, Rodriguez likely will get to rest during the Padres series finale.
“If a guy had a rough outing, I like to run him back out there,” Johnson said. “But he’s thrown a lot – and he can throw a lot. I’m more concerned with maybe giving him a little mental break like I’ve given [Danny Espinosa] and other guys. Hopefully he’ll get today off and regroup, but he’ll be back.”