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M’s new backstop Narvaez playing catch-up with new staff

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 20, 2019, 12:03 p.m.

Minnesota Twins' Byron Buxton, left, slides past after Chicago White Sox catcher Omar Narvaez in a game last season. Narvaez will be the Mariners’ starting catcher this season. (Jim Mone / AP)
Minnesota Twins' Byron Buxton, left, slides past after Chicago White Sox catcher Omar Narvaez in a game last season. Narvaez will be the Mariners’ starting catcher this season. (Jim Mone / AP)
Associated Press

PEORIA, Ariz. – Omar Narvaez is expected to do plenty with the bat as the Seattle Mariners new catcher.

In his first spring training with the organization, he’s doing some important work with a 5 iron, too.

Narvaez has come into camp committed to establishing a rapport with Seattle’s young pitching staff, and he’s putting in overtime on that effort. The 27-year-old isn’t just talking shop around the clubhouse and the dugout – he’s also played golf with several of the team’s pitchers already, and he’s using the time learn about his batterymates.

“The more you know the guys, the more it’s going to help me to call the game better,” Narvaez said. “I like (golf), so that way, it makes it easy for me to meet everybody.”

Narvaez is expected to start the majority of Seattle’s games after being acquired from the Chicago White Sox for reliever Alex Colome in November. David Frietas is the top reserve catching candidate.

Narvaez, a left-handed hitter, was quietly one of baseball’s best offensive catchers last season, hitting .275 with nine homers and a .794 OPS over 97 games.

“He’s very comfortable with the bat in his hand,” manager Scott Servais said.

To start spring training, Narvaez has put an emphasis on the other side of the ball, working on his defense and building relationships with the staff. He studied video of his new pitchers before even arriving for camp.

“That pitcher-catcher relationship is huge,” Servais said. “It’s the core of your team. You are driven by the guy on the mound. … It’s the mental connection and understanding how to get the most out of the that guy on the mound. On a particular day, what is his best stuff? Taking all the information, the scouting reports, and being able to somehow put it in play during the course of the game.”

Narvaez also is concentrating on developing his pitch-framing skills. He ranked near the bottom of the AL in getting borderline pitches called for strikes in each of the last two seasons, according to the metrics used by StatCorner.

“A lot of drills,” said Narvaez, who counts Yadier Molina as a role model. “A lot of stretching. That is a big part of framing, being able to feel comfortable when I am catching. I think all the work I’ve been putting in is going to show up. My main goal this year is to make more pitches strikes and help my pitchers even more.”

Like many teams, the Mariners have made pitch framing a top priority.

“The value of stealing a 3-2 pitch is huge in our game,” Servais said. “On the 50-50 pitch that may be a ball or a strike, if the catchers are adept in turning that ball into a strike, it changes the course of a game. Pitchers certainly see the value of it. We do, too. It is something we will spend a lot of time on this spring.”

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