SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners Insider: An unexpected move that may pay off for all involved

Jun 18, 2024, 7:06 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2024, 8:07 am

Seattle Mariners catcher Mitch Garver...

Mitch Garver and George Kirby of the Seattle Mariners during the fourth inning of a 2024 game. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Ty France’s rapid return from the IL set off a series of interesting moves for the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday.

If you thought Tyler Locklear would be sent down when France was ready, well, with a string of lefty starters on the near horizon, the Mariners opted to keep Locklear and instead DFA’d Seby Zavala to make room on the roster. Mitch Garver showing he can catch on a backup regular basis made this move possible. For Locklear, the move may be temporary as he will need to get consistent at-bats. For Garver, more permanent as he is now the second catcher.

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“I’ve already been catching (bullpens) multiple times a week, staying ready in case there was an injury or an emergency, but now it’s just moved to that role where I will be catching a little bit more,” Garver said Tuesday.

The work paid off. It’s work Garver insisted on doing even though he knew his role was to be the DH with the catching duties left to Cal Raleigh and Zavala. Garver didn’t want to put away the gear and didn’t want to turn off his catcher brain. He wanted to stay active in catcher meetings, share his experience and help where he could. He kept the catcher mindset and most of the catcher routine. When he struggled with the bat, there was thought that the transition to DH was part of the struggle. In an effort to get the bat going, he was given a start behind the plate on May 29 catching George Kirby. The move has appeared to benefit Garver who hit .171/.285/.316/.601 with 22 walks and 55 strikeouts in games prior to catching Kirby, improving to .181/.346/.455/.800 with 11 walks and 14 strikeouts since May 29.

“It’s funny. Throughout my whole career I never put as much emphasis on my catching as I do now,” Garver said. “I always used to be a bat-first catcher, and now when I am catching the hitting is so secondary to me. My at-bats are what they are, I just go up there and try to do something. Really my priority is taking care of the pitchers. For the first time in my career, I feel like that has flipped, which is kind of strange.”

The work behind the plate was perhaps a very needed distraction from what he did at the plate.

“It’s more important to take care of those guys,” Garver said. “It’s something I did in the past, but not to the level I am doing now. I’m putting a lot of emphasis on trying to be creative with them in between innings, a lot of communication, a lot of changing up approaches if we need to in the game, a lot of strategy during the game.”

While not a distraction, the move may have been a little bit of a shake up for Kirby with Garver inserted behind the plate after Kirby gave up 5 runs in back-to-back starts. After his second start with Garver behind the plate, Kirby mentioned that he had enjoyed the between-innings talks and that Garver had been good about “putting me in my place if I need to be.” Garver had made it clear from the get go that while he understood Kirby liked the in-game conversations to be short, he himself needed those talks about approach and strategy and they needed to work as a team.

“I think it is important,” Garver explained. “Things change throughout the game. Sometimes you don’t have a certain pitch, sometimes you need to make adjustments in the lineup, that’s what communication is all about. It could be short, it could just be regarding the first hitter of the next inning but keeping that line of communication open lets him know what I am thinking and I can also hear how he’s feeling about certain things. Everyone’s opinion matters and the whole goal is to get us off the field as quick as possible and give our offense a chance to score runs.”

And in June, Graver has been a big part of run scoring posting a team high 159 wRC+ with 12 runs driven in. A move that was not to be expected when the team broke camp in Peoria may just pay off for all involved.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Mariners DFA catcher Zavala in move that has interesting ramifications
• Mariners Insider: Quick hits after AL West leaders’ 6-1 homestand
Mariners’ Josh Rojas has elite ‘instincts,’ Gold Glove case at 3B
• What’s behind Mariners’ drastic home success, road struggles?
• Three bold predictions for Seattle Mariners: Trades, All-Stars, more

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