What Tucker Barnhart brings to the Cubs and how he can help elevate the pitching staff
Now that he has a home, new Cubs catcher Tucker Barnhart has one priority ahead of the start of the 2023 season: build a rapport with his pitching staff.
“It’s at the top of the list, really,” Barnhart said Wednesday afternoon during his introductory Zoom press conference.
That camaraderie is crucial for a pitcher and catcher and Barnhart knows that. He wants to make sure any pitcher that toes the rubber as a Cub can look across the 60 feet, 6 inches that separates them and know everything will be OK.
It begins with getting to know the pitcher beyond what pitches they use and how often. Barnhart wants to know as much about them off the field as on it.
“They have to trust us,” Barnhart said. “I think that’s where it starts.”
When that relationship is built, the pitching staff can flourish.
Barnhart, coupled with Yan Gomes, will split the catching duties for the Cubs in 2023, combining a pair of veterans known for their game-calling and defense. Gomes has been praised for his relationship with Cubs pitchers and helping them have success on the mound. Barnhart believes the pair can work to continue to extract the best out of their pitching staff and maximize their strengths.
Couple that with a much-improved defense and he believes that it can lead to success for the Cubs next season.
“It’s not like the coolest, most highlight-reel thing to see every day, but pitching and defense wins games; it [does],” Barnhart said. “I don’t think enough people put an emphasis on run prevention and pitching and defense. So, for me, hearing how highly they value that was a big key in making my antennas go up as a place that I wanted to play.”
The Cubs have added a combined 8 Gold Gloves with the additions of Barnhart (2), Dansby Swanson (1), Cody Bellinger (1) and, reportedly, Eric Hosmer (4). Couple that with Nico Hoerner at second base — where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020 — and Ian Happ (2022 NL Gold Glove winner in left field) and the Cubs have a strong defense across the diamond.
That allows Barnhart and Gomes to be aggressive in their pitch-calling.
“It gives pitchers a lot of confidence to know they don’t have to be super fine and pitch for the strikeout all the time,” Barnhart said. “When you have Gold Glovers up the middle, or guys that are elite defenders all over the field, it allows guys like Marcus Stroman to throw sinkers and say good luck. It allows Kyle Hendricks to do the same with his changeup to get weak groundballs or weak contact and know that the guys are going to make plays behind them.”
And it all comes back to that relationship between Barnhart and Gomes and the pitching staff. Barnhart knows that the aggressive pitch-calling doesn’t come without the foundation they lay forth between now and Opening Day.
“They know that if they need to bounce a breaking ball with 2 strikes with the bases loaded and the game on the line, they have no problem doing that solely because they trust that it’s gonna get knocked down or that it’s the right pitch at the right time,” Barnhart said. “It’s just getting to know those guys and stressing the level of importance of, when the bullets start flying on March 30, that we’ve had all the conversations that we need to have. They know that we’re prepared, we know they’re prepared and you hit the ground running.
“It’s at the top of the list in terms of things that matter the most, in my opinion.”