Excelling as a Major League catcher is an art that requires much time and delicate technique. …
Nieves Separating Himself From The Pack
Since getting acquired in a trade with the Angels in early 2005 for RHP Bret Prinz, Wil Nieves has played the majority of his games with the Clippers. This season, Nieves has started 30 games at catcher, while splitting time with the likes of Koyie Hill and Ben Davis among others.
With so many players in the mix, Coach Kevin Long said that one of Nieves's biggest contributions to the club has been the way he has handled the Clippers' pitching staff.
"When he catches, you can tell, the energy, and the life he brings back there," said Long. "The pitchers really enjoy throwing to him, and he does a nice job there."
Nieves knows what is expected of him, and he said he has been working hard to be on the same page with all the pitchers.
"My goal here has been to handle the pitching staff, and that's what I'm focused on the most," said Nieves following Sunday's win when he helped Sean Henn throw eight shutout innings before being charged a run in the ninth.
However, the Clippers have had their share of injuries, promotions and demotions amongst the pitching staff, and Nieves says that it has been tough at times.
"It's hard when you know a pitcher, and they take him up to the big leagues, or they send him to AA, and then they bring up a new one," he said. "But every time they bring a new guy, I talk to them before the game, see what pitches they have, what they throw behind the count besides the fastball, so I just try to get to know them like that."
Even with all the changes in the rotation and new pitchers, Nieves is confident he can keep up with ever-evolving Clippers pitching staff.
"I'm pretty good remembering what they tell me," he said.
But in a season where Clippers' catchers have come and gone, Nieves has not been the main man just because of his defense.
"His defense, and his hitting, his all around game. He could easily be a number one catcher," said Long.
Part of being a number one catcher is being a force not just defensively, but also on offense. Nieves said he has put in the time at the cage as the season has gotten along, "I'm working on my swing, I'm doing everything to make me a better hitter."
Although he's batting .272 with seven runs batted in this season, those modest numbers are vastly superior to his counterparts, Ben Davis and Koyie Hill, neither of whom has broken the .200 plateau. Long appreciates his ability to hit.
"Offensively, he's got a lifetime .300 average in the Minor Leagues, so he's nice to have on the offensive side of things too," said Long.
Although minor league success does not always translate into Major League success, Nieves has yet to get a real shot at sticking with in the bigs. After making the club in Spring Training, Nieves was sent down to Columbus in favor of Randy Johnson's personal catcher, Kelly Stinnett. But he is patiently awaiting the possibility.
"I would love to go, I would love to be part of the Yankees in the big leagues. I'm just working hard, and I just want to do anything to get to the Big Leagues," said Nieves.
"I've played in AAA a couple of years, you know, three or four years, and I think I have done my job here. I just leave my career in God's hands. I just need a door to open for me. I've been waiting for that, so hopefully the door will open for me with this organization, but we'll see."
The way the Big Unit has been throwing to Stinnett, maybe it's time for that door to open.
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