Continuity is key for Crew's pitchers, catchers

Continuity is key for Crew's pitchers, catchers

MESA, Ariz. -- It was the first thing that Zack Greinke pointed to, when he reflected on his excellent outing for the Brewers this week -- his relationship with catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who was behind the plate for each of Greinke's three shutout innings.

"It felt real good again," Greinke said. "Real good page with Lucroy today. It feels good doing that. He's caught me a couple times in a row, so that always kind of helps to stay with the same catcher."

It's one of the most glaringly obvious concepts in baseball -- the pitcher's relationship with his catcher -- but something that can be harder for the tandem to achieve during Spring Training, when pitchers and catchers are swapped in and out of games so frequently. The Brewers have seven catchers in big league camp (four are non-roster invitees) and 28 pitchers, and sometimes their first meet-and-greet comes on the field.

"There's so many catchers here," said right-hander Taylor Jungmann, Milwaukee's first pick in the 2011 Draft. "With some of these guys, you get into the game and they haven't caught you before. I know that's happened to me a couple times already. It's different, but all these guys are good. So you're gonna trust what they're calling."

Fortunately for the Brewers, the majority of the team's offseason transactions involved position players. Right-hander Jose Veras is the only new addition on the mound, after the club lost right-handers LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito. Lucroy is also poised to start his second full season as the club's primary backstop.

"The continuity helps with everybody," left-hander Randy Wolf said of having the same starting pitching this season. "The catchers know what pitches they like to throw, what they use to strike guys out, what they throw early in the count, late in the count, all those things that actually make things go a lot quicker. The biggest thing for Luc most of all is to be out there from day one of Spring Training."

In addition to Greinke and Wolf, Chris Narveson, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Marco Estrada all figure to be in the mix yet again.

"Here, it's pretty easy because pretty much the whole staff from last year is here this year," Lucroy said of the pitcher-catcher chemistry. "There's a few new guys, and a lot guys I've either caught in the Minor Leagues, here or caught during the season."

Martin Maldonado, who has caught many of the Brewers' young pitchers in the Minor Leagues over the last five years, said he'll spend extra time in the bullpen with an unfamiliar pitcher during Spring Training to get on the same page.

"You've got to have confidence in your pitchers and confidence together, so you have to be on the same page," Maldonado said. "You don't want him shaking [pitches off] too much, so you have to be comfortable."

Right-hander Mike Fiers is one of those young hurlers who has spent plenty of time with Maldonado over the years. And he realizes the importance of the relationship every time he sees a new face behind the dish.

"I think he actually knows more about me now, catching me from High-A through Double-A and Triple-A," Fiers said of Maldonado. "Sometimes I get frustrated with myself, so he gets me back in the groove rather than me try to do something out of the ordinary.

"As a pitcher, I'm going to throw my pitches, and I'm going to do what's worked for me in the past. But it definitely helps if it's someone I've been playing catch with for a while."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak.‬ This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.