By: Carson Field
Not much has been constant for the Braves this year. Hitting and pitching have come and gone throughout the season, resulting in a losing record.
But one area has been more unpredictable than the rest: catching. This inconsistency however, isn’t the product of poor play; bad luck has doomed Bourne behind the plate.
On opening day, the Braves had three catchers on the active roster: Paul Gozzo, Peter Burns and Jacob Campbell. Not one of that trio is still on the team.
Gozzo, a temporary player, was sent home on June 26. Hitting below the Mendoza line and being one of four catchers on the active roster at that point, Gozzo’s departure didn’t seem like a crucial blow. That changed shortly after.
Burns — under the request of his college coach — cut his season short a few days after Gozzo’s release. And Campbell sustained a thumb injury and was released.
Starting pitcher Nick Dombkowski said this shuffling of catchers can be a tough adjustment for those on the mound.
“It takes a little getting used to,” Dombkowski said. “Just getting used to what we like can take a while.”
But this turnover behind home plate didn’t end with those three. Later in June, Bourne added Louisville’s Henry Davis and East Tennessee State’s Jackson Greer to the lineup. Their tenures, however, lasted less than a month; both Davis and Greer were sent home with concussions.
With Greer’s release on July 23, it meant Bourne didn’t have a full-time catcher on the active roster. But one position player had experience behind the plate. Enter Brendan Rivoli. A University of Virginia outfielder, Rivoli also played catcher for the majority of his youth.
“I enjoy being back there,” Rivoli said.
For the first month of the season Rivoli played in the outfield. But, after a slow start, Rivoli’s playing time dipped. He became more of a pinch-hit regular — until Greer’s injury in the All-Star Game. Rivoli then earned more starts behind the plate.
Though it was an abrupt position shift, it didn’t take Rivoli long to settle back into the spot behind home plate.
“It’s not too bad because, in the season, I’ve been catching in the bullpen and messing around with it,” Rivoli said. “I didn’t really lose that aspect of it.
“Going from the bullpen and in a game are two different things, but I’m really enjoying the opportunity.”
Even though Rivoli has only been in the picture at catcher for the last two weeks, his relationships with the previous catchers helped sharpen his skills defensively.
“Learning from each other is definitely huge,” Rivoli said. “Jackson (Greer) and Jacob Campbell and the others, just talking to them and how they catch and what kind of drills and stuff like that helped me.”
While Rivoli provides Bourne with an experienced option behind the plate, having just one catcher on the roster would be ill-advised. That’s why the Braves added Hartford product Robert Carmody to the roster on July 17.
This season with Hartford, Carmody recorded a stellar .995 fielding percentage in 32 games with the Hawks.
In his first appearance on the Cape, Carmody had the chance to catch for Dombkowski — one of his college teammates. That game, Dombkowski threw a shortened perfect game.
Not only was throwing his first ever no-hitter magical for Dombkowski, sharing it with a college teammate made it even better.
“It was a pretty surreal moment,” Dombkowski said. “It’s just an honor to have him up here, and I’m sure he’s excited.”
Since then, Carmody has started three games. For the final eight games of the regular season, he will likely split the reps down the middle with Rivoli.
During this short stint on the Cape, Carmody hopes to polish his skills before returning to school.
“I think mainly getting better is my goal,” Carmody said. “I was down for like a month and a half, so just getting better and getting to know the guys will be fun.”
While Carmody and Rivoli will compete for the majority of playing time at the catcher spot, they are, more importantly, teammates. Because of this, Carmody hopes he meshes well with his counterpart behind the plate.
“I think we both work together well,” Carmody said. “We’re just going to try to push each other and make each other.”
Though Carmody and Rivoli both have ample experience behind home plate, finding an offensive rhythm hasn’t been easy for either catcher. Carmody and Rivoli are batting .100 and .164, respectively.
Collectively, offense has been among Bourne’s most notable pitfalls this year. Even so, assistant coach Wayne Hancock is less worried about his catchers’ offense than their defense.
“If they give us hitting, that’s great, but defense is just as important,” Hancock said. “I think that they’re pretty good defensively. They’ve done a nice job of blocking pitches in the dirt.”
As the regular season winds down, the team’s goal is clear: win. Bourne is currently just one point away from clinching a playoff spot.
Without Greer, Davis or any of the other previous catchers, Carmody and Rivoli will be heavily relied upon to be productive in the final stretch.
“I’m trying to do whatever it takes to win,” Carmody said. “I think I receive, block and throw well, so I’m just trying to do that while executing on offense and winning ballgames.”