By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The process of John Jaso becoming a viable candidate for an every day catching position with the Seattle Mariners continued on Monday.
The third-year catcher has slowly worked on earning the trust of Mariners manager Eric Wedge since joining the team in the offseason. And of course, the injury to starter Miguel Olivo has helped expedite the process.
Jaso was in the lineup at catcher against the Rangers and tasked with catching Mariners ace and former Cy Young award winner Felix Hernandez.
It was the first time Jaso was asked to catch Hernandez in a regular season game. Prior to that, Jaso had only caught Hernandez during one spring training game and a couple spring training bullpen sessions.
“I haven’t caught him since then, not even bullpen sessions,” Jaso said.
Jaso’s experience seeing Hernandez is pretty limited.
“I never hit against him either when I was the Rays,” he said. “His changeup is so tough on lefties so I always sat the bench whenever we faced him.”
But Wedge didn’t seem too concerned for Jaso.
“John’s come a long ways,” Wedge said. “He’s much more comfortable than he was earlier. It’s a good opportunity for him to catch Felix.”
While Jaso has caught 168 games in his career, the process of catching Hernandez is a challenge. Every one of Hernandez’s pitches can and will have violent to extreme movement. It’s caused problems for any player that’s caught him in the past, particularly Kenji Johjima, Rob Johnson, Olivo and Jesus Montero. Though none of whom would be confused with Johnny Bench or Pudge Rodriguez or even Dan Wilson, defensively.
When Jaso finally got behind the plate and began receiving pitches from the former Cy Young award winner, it was even better than he expected.
“It was pretty cool to see it,” Jaso said. “He throws his curveball real hard and has tight spin. But so much of it is the consistency of his delivery. He hides the ball really well so you can’t pick up the spin until its right on you. Before you know it, the ball is doing something different than the pitch before.”
So does that make it difficult as a catcher?
“It only becomes difficult when the ball moves in a different direction than you are expecting,” Jaso said.
The best example would be when Hernandez throws that two-seam fastball and instead of sinking, the ball cuts because of the finger pressure.
As for the process of calling the game, it’s common knowledge Hernandez calls his own game. Watch a game closely, and he isn’t afraid to shake off any catcher. He throws what he wants to throw. But Jaso wants to make his pitcher as comfortable as possible.
“I try and get on the same page as much possible by trying to read his patterns,” Jaso said.
“You should have seen (Kevin) Millwood’s bullpen before the game in Colorado,” Jaso said. “He was all over the place. He might have thrown a handful of pitches into my body. The rest I was reaching for. But we got into the game and he couldn’t do anything but throw it into my glove.”
Olivo with Rainiers
Miguel Olivo officially began his rehab assignment for a strained groin on Monday night with the Tacoma Rainiers. Olivo was in the starting lineup at catcher and batting third for the Rainiers, who were in Des Moines, Iowa, to play the Iowa Cubs.
He played five innings and went 1-for-3 with a run scored.
Wedge said the plan will be for Olivo to be the designated hitter in today’s game and then catch again on Wednesday. From there, the Mariners will re-evaluate the situation. But Wedge did say Olivo must show the Mariners he can catch a full nine innings before they will bring him back.
Olivo was placed on the disabled list on May 1, after injuring his groin in the game the night before in Tampa Bay.