May 10, 2015, 7:00 AM EST
While Saturday’s walk-off win will be remembered for Bryce Harper’s heroics, it was the performance of a part-time bat that underscored the true depth of the Nationals’ lineup.
Backup catcher Jose Lobaton, who Matt Williams inserted into the lineup because of his previous success against Braves starter Julio Teheran, justified his manager’s faith in him by posting a three-hit game, including a two-run home run to get the Nats on the board in the second inning.
With Wilson Ramos as the club’s everyday catcher, Lobaton doesn’t get many opportunities to shine at or behind the dish. But in his last three games, he’s gone 6-for-10 with two home runs, six RBI and three walks.
“He understands the role,” Williams said. “He understands that there may be a week where he only plays once. And then there may be a situation like today where we’ve got a good matchup that he plays in a game where Wilson would ordinarily play in.”
“Huge,” added a grinning Harper on Lobaton’s home run. “Lobi came up huge in that last inning or the inning before, getting on base. He had three hits today. He’s such a good pitch caller back there behind the plate, too, so he’s fun to watch. He blocks the ball really well, throws the ball really well, so he’s just a great catcher, great hitter.”
And while Lobaton is heating up at the plate, it’s his work at catcher that impresses the pitching staff the most. The best example was with Saturday’s starter Doug Fister, who pitched well enough to win in 6 2/3 innings. In fact, Fister might be the primary beneficiary of Lobaton’s work since the beginning of 2014. In the 12 times the pair has worked together, Fister has posted a 1.41 ERA — by far the best mark in his career with a battery mate he’s been with for more than two starts.
“Loby has this unique personality about him where he can kind of bring everybody together,” Fister said. “He’s a fun guy to be around. Being able to communicate with him has been easy for me. He’s a great teammate. That’s what we want. That’s what we have around here. One of 25 guys.”
Although Lobaton is perched firmly behind Ramos on the depth chart, his experience is what gives the Nats comfort that should anything happen to the starting catcher, they’d have a guy who could step in and not miss a beat.
“Last year Wilson was out quite a bit and [Lobaton] got a chance to know these guys,” Williams said. “It’s not like he’s stepping into a situation he hasn’t been in.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
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SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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