Even with Victor Caratini repeating as Darvish’s personal catcher, Contreras hopes DHing will allow him to play all 60 games.
From the news-that-probably-shouldn’t-surprise-anyone department: Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini will be paired again as Cubs battery mates in 2020.
No. 1 catcher Willson Contreras let the cat out of the bag Monday, when manager David Ross just so happened to be removed from the scene at Wrigley Field as he awaited delayed results from COVID-19 testing done two days earlier.
“We talked about it a few days ago, and Victor is catching Darvish because there are only 60 games and Darvish did really well with Victor last year,” Contreras said on a video conference with reporters.
“That’s one thing I don’t mind. I think they did really good. I think I put myself in that situation [in 2017] when I started catching [Jon] Lester, so it’s the same situation. I’m not mad. We are teammates, we want to do really good and we’re here to win. That’s the most important thing.”
Who could be mad? Over Darvish’s 19 starts with Caratini behind the plate last season, he held batters to a puny .210 average, struck out 155, walked only 16 and had a more-than-respectable 3.29 ERA. In other words, he was the guy the Cubs hoped they were getting when they signed him for six years and $126 million heading into 2018.
“What Vic did with Darvish that second half of the season last year can’t go unnoticed,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said.
But know this: Contreras, an All-Star starter each of the last two seasons, has no interest in being out of the lineup, not even once every five days. With the designated hitter in play in the National League, Contreras figures the solution is simple.
“I know the DH will save my legs a little bit, but I think I’ll be [catching] most of the games. And the games I don’t, I think I’ll be DH,” he said. “So, I’ll be ready to play every single day.”
How close could Ross come to accommodating those wishes if it were his intention to try?
Kyle Schwarber, a far better hitter than outfielder, clearly ought to take an extra-large bite out of the opportunities at DH; it’s nearly impossible to imagine his bat not being in the lineup against any right-handed starter the Cubs face. Outfielder Steven Souza Jr., a righty with power, will do his share of DHing. The switch-hitting Caratini will, too — perhaps more often than Souza — not that it will affect Contreras, who presumably will be behind the plate in those games.
Caratini has been one of tho most impressive players in the short time the Cubs have been holding workouts at Wrigley Field, lining base hits in intrasquad scrimmages and handling a necessarily heavy load of catching without struggle. Caratini doesn’t have Contreras’ massive throwing arm or his elite athleticism, but analytics say he’s a better pitch framer and was a better overall defender in 2019.
And Darvish loves him, so there’s that, too.
“Victor is really good,” Contreras said. “He makes me proud. He’s a great player. I know that he’s catching behind me, but I put him up there. … Hopefully, we keep doing this thing for a lot of years together.”
Contreras has been lighting it up offensively in camp with home runs and, according to Ross — who was Lester’s personal catcher with the Red Sox and the Cubs – working hard at building relationships with pitchers. He also came into camp in excellent shape after working out for two months with younger brother William, a catcher himself who is making noise in Braves camp.
There’s still only one catching star on the North Side, and it’s Contreras.
“I’m looking forward to having a good season, even 60 games,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to helping my team clinch the playoffs and, hopefully, get to the World Series.”