New­est catcher de­vel­oped in Washington’s or­ga­ni­za­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

Nor­ris will be re­plac­ing a man who was an all-star last sea­son and ar­guably the league’s best hit­ting catcher. Wilson Ramos hit .307 with a ca­reer-high 22 home runs. His bat length­ened the Na­tion­als’ lineup so much that man­ager Dusty Baker lamented not hav­ing it in the play­offs af­ter Ramos tore his ACL Sept. 27.

“Wilson had a great year,” Nor­ris said. “His hit­ting num­bers were up there with some of the best in the last 10 years of catch­ers. I’m not look­ing to come in here and say I’m go­ing to hit .320 with 20 home runs and drive in 100. Who knows? It could hap­pen. I’m not say­ing it is or is not go­ing to hap­pen.”

Ramos’ in­jury popped Jose Lo­ba­ton and rookie Pe­dro Sev­erino into ac­tion. Lo­ba­ton hit a mem­o­rable three-run home run in the Na­tional League Divi­sion Series. Sev­erino was just 1-for-10 in the play­offs.

Lo­ba­ton signed a one-year deal to avoid ar­bi­tra­tion. Sev­erino, who does not turn 24 un­til next July, was called the “catcher of the fu­ture” this off­sea­son by Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo. The off­sea­son moves have made the peck­ing or­der at catcher next sea­son ap­pear clear. Lo­ba­ton, who Ryan Zim­mer­man said is one of the most un­der­rated de­fen­sive catch­ers in the league, will again be the backup. Nor­ris will start. Sev­erino will wait.

“I didn’t know what was go­ing to hap­pen,” Lo­ba­ton said of the trade. “I was like, ‘OK, what’s next? What are they go­ing to do with Sevi, me and Derek?’ That was my first ques­tion. Then I fig­ured out that I can’t do any­thing [about it] and I just have to show up at spring train­ing and do my best.”

Nor­ris ex­pects fa­mil­iar­ity will help him. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Na­tion­als in 2007. Cur­rent third base coach Bob Hen­ley was his man­ager in in rookie ball, catch­ing co­or­di­na­tor and “like a sec­ond dad to me,” Nor­ris said. Cur­rent hit­ting coach Rick Schu was Nor­ris’ hit­ting in­struc­tor for two sea­sons in the past.

He never made it to the ma­jor leagues with the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Nor­ris was traded in 2011 as part of the deal that fetched Gio Gon­za­lez for Washington. Three years later, he was at the All-Star Game with an Oak­land Ath­let­ics uni­form on. He wants to re­peat the re­sults in his first jer­sey.

Derek Nor­ris’ bad start led only to more des­per­a­tion last sea­son, the kind that base­ball’s re­lent­less daily cal­en­dar can de­liver. A con­sis­tent base­ball mantra is that ev­ery­thing can be fixed the next day, which is the beauty of how the sport is mapped out. It’s also how a snow­ball turns into an avalanche.

“It was a scuf­fle,” Nor­ris said. “I got off to a bad start and I’m not big into ex­cuses, so I’m not go­ing to say this and that, this and that. I got buried early and I tried to get four hits ev­ery sin­gle day to make up for lost time and be­fore I knew it, it was June. By the time June comes, not a whole lot you can do about it. Last year was last year. It’s not what I’m about. I think every­one knows that’s not the type of of­fen­sive player I am and that’s what I’m out to show this year.”

The Na­tion­als’ new, and pre­sum­ably main, catcher had an of­fen­sive sea­son he la­beled “aw­ful.” The num­bers back his assess­ment: Nor­ris hit .186. His on-base per­cent­age was .255. He struck out 139 times and hit safely just 77 times. Only his home run to­tals re­mained level with the player he has been in the past, a com­pe­tent hit­ter who was an Amer­i­can League all-star just two sea­sons ago and one Washington has pitched as a bounce-back can­di­date to re­place a key hit­ter.

“I think any­one that plays this game knows every­one has a down year,” Nor­ris said. “Hope­fully, that was mine. Well, lord I hope that was mine.”

Nor­ris’ bot­tom-scrap­ing sea­son drove down his trade cost. The Na­tion­als were able to ac­quire him from the San Diego Padres for mi­nor-league right-handed pitcher Pe­dro Avila, a 19 year old on the fringe of Sin­gle-A ball who has been pil­ing up strike­outs at least four steps be­low the ma­jor-league level.

Nor­ris re­mains young by base­ball stan­dards. He’s 27, and has played 557 games in five sea­sons. For a catcher, that is a low level of wear. For a base­ball player, that is also of­ten the age of ad­vance­ment.

The is­sue for the Na­tion­als is that


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