Well after writing today that Russell Branyan was going to get the day off – based on what manager Don Wakamatsu told us yesterday day – low and behold Branyan is in his usual spot in the order and playing first base.
“We talked about Russell getting a day off,” Wakamatsu said. “He came in feeling better. He really wanted to be in there today, and it gives us an opportunity to give Grif a day off with his knee.
So was there any level of convincing?
“We talked about it last night,” Wakamatsu said. “I told him I planned on giving him the day off, we’d come in here and see how he felt. He came in today and said he wanted to play. The big thing is we wanted to get Shelton in there, either at first base or DH.”
Wakamatsu admits they are walking a line where they try and keep Branyan’s back healthy, but also giving him the at-bats to break out of a minor offensive funk that he’s been in.
“We’re trying to get his swing back to where we feel it should be,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s making some progress, nice swing on his sac fly yesterday. Now’s the time he has to push through. We have to juggle how much is the back, and how much is the swing.”
While Branyan is in, Johjima is out. It really wasn’t a surprise. Maybe to some since Rob Johnson will have now caught three games in a row, including a day game after a night game, something that most teams try to avoid.
But, since Joh returned from the DL, Johnson has caught every game that Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn have pitched, while Joh has been catching the likes of Garrett Olson, Jason Vargas and Brandon Morrow.
It’s a trend that could continue, despite Johjima getting three hits on Thursday to open the series.
“I had a discussion with Joh, and we try to prioritize what’s most important for this club,” Wakamatsu said. “Getting hits is not the number one thing. Winning ball games is, and having a belief system with the starting pitcher, and pitchers in general. Rob right now seems to have a strong relationship with the guys that he’s catching.”
Concerns over Johjima’s ability, or rather his inability, to call a good game behind the plate are nothing new. Jamie Moyer complained when he was here, Washburn was critical at one point and Bedard secretly griped about Joh to the point where John McLaren made Jamie Burke his personal catcher.
Wakamatsu has said often he would not have personal catchers this season, which he reiterated again on Sunday.
“We’ve talked about not having favoritism,” Wakamatsu said. “What we talked about lately is just the belief system. I don’t think there’s a huge difference in what’s being called and what’s being executed. That’s what we’re talking about with Joh. So much of it is body language. Whether Rob’s doing it better, I’m not saying that.”
Basically what’s going on is the old adage of “don’t mess with a streak.” The top three seem to be pitching well with Johnson and they are winning games with Johnson and Wakamatsu isn’t about to defy that notion.
“I’m saying the results right now, because these guys are pitching well, it’s something you don’t want to break up,” he said. “That’s not an attack on Joh and his ability. It’s just that when these guys are throwing well, you tend to go with the hot hand.”
So that means Joh could at some point go back to catching those guys.
“He’s had success with these guys in the past,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s caught guys, whether it’s Batista, whether it’s Felix, whether it’s Bedard, these guys have had success with him. It’s just as a manager and a guy overseeing this club, you try to pair up the timing of it. Right now, Rob seems to be catching those guys well.”
As for the much-bandied about stat of catcher’s ERA, which Johnson has a significantly lower number than Joh. I’m not get into it much because I don’t like the stat and think it can be a misnomer. Wakamatsu does as well.
“I don’t think it’s a fair comparison, just because it’s not apples to apples,” Wakamatsu said. “There’s no way you can really say it’s an absolute. If it gets to a point where there’s a marked difference, then you have to look at it. But as far as overall, catcher’s earned run average, I think that’s a very unfair statistic. If Rob catches Felix and Joh catches someone who has a much higher ERA, there’s no correlation. I think over a larger sampling it maybe has some validity.
Wak doesn’t even buy into looking to the results when they catch the same pitcher.
“Yeah, but again is it against the same lineup. Who’s hurt? How we’re playing as a club at the time. It’s such an unfair deal,” he said. “It’s a nice stat to look at, but there’s not a great deal of validity in it.”
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Russell Branyan 1B
Jose Lopez 2B
Chris Shelton DH
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Rob Johnson C
Ryan Langerhans LF
Chris Woodward 3B
Ronny Cedeno SS
LHP Erik Bedard (5-2, 2.63 ERA)
Grady Sizemore DH
Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Shin-Soo Choo RF
Victor Martinez 1B
Jhonny Peralta 3B
Ryan Garko LF
Ben Francisco CF
Luis Valbuena 2B
Kelly Shoppach C
LHP Aaron Laffey 3-2, 4.24 ERA)
Chad Fairchild – HP
Jim Joyce – 1B
Doug Eddings – 2B
Dana De Muth – 3B