NORTH PORT, Fla. (AP)When Sal Fasano managed the Double-A New Hampshire Blue Jays in 2011, he quickly saw how well one of his catchers talked with the pitchers.
Travis d’Arnaud. Just 22, he sounded much older.
As a former catcher who played in 427 major-league games, Fasano noted how well d’Arnaud did one-on-one with each pitcher. He not only listened to what the pitchers said but he watched their body language. He also tried to get a working idea of what they wanted to accomplish before using trial-and-error to keep progressing, keep getting better.
“First thing I noticed,” Fasano said. “It’s always been his gift to me – his personal communication.”
Fast forward to 2020 and d’Arnaud and Fasano have reunited.
The Braves signed d’Arnaud, who played 92 games last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, to a two-year, $16 million contract. After an 11-year career in the majors and nine more in the minors, many of those as a manger, Fasano came to the Braves in 2019 as a catching instructor.
In the first three weeks of spring training, Fasano described d’Arnaud’s rapport with the pitcher as “an easy transition for him.”
“I think you first read and react and then you start to identify common habits and talk about it,” Fasano said. “It’s something that goes over the course of a year and gets better and better but now you’re building relationships the best you can.”
D’Arnaud is coming off a season where he had 16 homers and 67 RBI and hit. 263 for three times. It marked the fourth time in his career he had double-digit homers with the other three times coming with the New York Mets in 2014 (13), 2015 (12) and 2017 (16).
Only in 2014 has d’Arnaud had more than 400 plate appearances. The Mets did ride him in the 2015 postseason where he caught all 14 games. He had three homers and seven RBI for the Mets, who reached the World Series before losing to the Kansas City Royals in five games.
The chance to make another appearance in the playoffs proved tantalizing.
“It’s been an exciting, great team the last couple of years,” he said. “Very promising. I’m looking forward to a fun season.
“There’s no weaknesses. They can hit, run, play defense, pitch. Everyone meshes. The coaching staff is amazing.”
D’Arnaud said his comfort level with pitchers has progressed. He said it will continue to grow in games.
“That’s where you learn the most,” he said. “There’s where you can have certain kinds of situations you can replicate but can’t practice. The flow has been good.
“You sit next to them and chat.”
Even in spring training, d’Arnaud said he likes to have mini-conversations with pitchers before they face batters. In the regular season, he’ll go over scouting reports and game plans in more detail.
“It’s all about matchups,” he said. “It can’t be what one pitcher throws to one hitter. If a dude has a low swing plane, you want to throw it up in the zone so you have a higher advantage. High-ball hitter, you want command at the bottom of the zone and get a hard contact rate. And it’s almost like east-west deal to change things, inside and high, outside and low.”
D’Arnaud said it’s been a great learning experience in the give-and-take with the pitchers. He said Tyler Flowers has been a huge help.
“What you want to do with pitchers is see how to use their strengths and how they make matchups work well for them,” he said. “I ask a lot of questions and they’re very open with the answers.”
Well aware of the Atlanta humidity, d’Arnaud knows he’ll need to hydrate well and get time off during the 162-game season. He marveled at the seven-year run Brian McCann had with the Braves from 2006-12 where he not only caught at least 121 games in each season but had at least 18 homers.
“My goal is to stay healthy and the numbers will take care of themselves,” he said. “I can’t get those numbers if I’m playing 20 games. I want to be the bet I can be and make the pitchers feel comfortable on the mound.”
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