Kratz All Caught Up With San Fran’s Staff

By Greg Madia Daily News-Record

WASHINGTON — Before Bruce Bochy led the San Francisco Giants to three World Series championships earlier this decade or earned the National League Manager of the Year award in 1996, he was a longtime backup catcher as a player.

He knows exactly what someone in that role needs to prioritize.

Acquired in a trade to be the Giants backup catcher late last month, Erik Kratz is already showing Bochy and his new teammates the value he brings to that job.

Associated Press

“He has a great way about him,” Bochy said of Kratz, a product of Eastern Mennonite University. “He does a great job handling the staff and it’s not an easy job to come in late and get to know 13 pitchers, how they think and what they want to throw.”

Kratz, who started and was 1-for-3 with an RBI double in San Francisco’s 4-2 loss to Washington in Thursday’s series finale at Nationals Park, said his primary responsibility since joining the Giants has been to build chemistry with the pitching staff.

He’s caught some Giants pitchers earlier in his career like relievers Mark Melancon and Tony Watson when the three were in Pittsburgh. Thursday’s starter, Drew Pomeranz, threw to Kratz when the two were in San Diego Padres spring training together a few years back.

But other than that, Kratz has had to figure out the rest of the rotation and bullpen arms.

“It’s me getting to know these guys, and also them feeling comfortable seeing me back there,” Kratz said. “As much as they can say, ‘You’re doing good. You look great. You’ve done a great job,’ or that my reputation precedes me, it’s still one of those things where you want them to be comfortable because unless they’re 100 percent comfortable, you’re not getting the most out of those guys. It takes time.”

Kratz said he’s caught all the starters except for ace Madison Bumgarner at least once, but that he’s worked with Bumgarner three or four times between his starts.

“It’s one of those things where you can see what they’re doing physically pitching wise,” Kratz said. “But it’s more mental knowing what makes them tick and what makes them run.”

Starter Derek Holland is beginning to see what’s made Kratz have a sturdy place in Major League Baseball the past few seasons. Holland said he didn’t know much about Kratz before the veteran backstop was dealt from Milwaukee to San Francisco.

“He’s very smart when it comes to the game,” Holland said. “He definitely does his research. He prepares very well and I love the way he calls a game back there.

“He does a great job, and he’s a nice big target, too, but he definitely comes to the field every day prepared whether he’s playing or not, and I think that shows a lot about him as a player.”

Kratz said he’s constantly part of strategy meetings with Bochy and No. 1 catcher Buster Posey when the Giants are game-planning how to pitch opposing hitters while also accounting for what pitches the San Francisco pitchers are throwing well heading into a particular outing.

“Kratz is a catcher you want to throw to, for sure,” said Melancon, who inherited and stranded two runners while tossing a scoreless eighth inning with Kratz behind the dish Thursday. “I know he’s done his homework and I know I can trust him back there. And I know he really wants the best for his pitchers. So when you know that as a pitcher, it gives you a lot more conviction in each of your pitches.”

That’s what Watson said he tried to tell some of the other Giants hurlers about Kratz when the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder first got to San Francisco.

“That’s what I told the guys,” Watson said. “And that he’s a huge target, obviously. He’s a big guy, so it’s nice to look down there and see that huge target.

“And one of the things we always laugh about is how hard he throws the ball back to you. He’s got a great arm and he’s not afraid to whip one back to you. So it’s funny to see some of the guys’ reactions when they’re first out there with him and the ball kind of jumps on ‘em a bit, so we were having a good time with it the first couple of days. But I think he’s going to be a huge part for us this year and we’re really glad to have him.”

Kratz said Posey has accelerated the adjustment.

“Some of the guys he’s had 10 years with, so it’s something where he knows what makes these guys tick,” Kratz said. “He analyzes all that stuff and it’s no wonder why he’s a fringe Hall of Fame player. It’s not by chance. So it’s cool to be able to bounce things off of him and he’s always willing to learn. He’s willing to see what I think, and I hear what he thinks and we go from there.”

Posey said it’s just as easy to work with Kratz.

“He’s been around for so long now, it’s like having another coach while still contributing on the field,” Posey said. “Again, the reason why he’s been around for so long is he prepares really well and I think he gives the pitchers confidence when he’s on the mound.”

Contact Greg Madia at 574-6296 or gmadia@dnronline.com

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