In 2013, Max Scherzer had a breakout campaign for the Detroit Tigers, going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts. Those 32 starts earned the right-hander his first of three coveted Cy Young awards. His catcher that season was Alex Avila.
The 34-year-old Avila was reunited Wednesday with Scherzer, and former teammates Jon Lester and Patrick Corbin, signing a one-year deal to join the Nationals.
"It will be a lot of fun catching Max again,” Avila said on a Zoom video call with reporters. “He was always one of my favorite guys to catch. He was always so well prepared. I got to watch him develop into what he is now. So it will be a thrill for me to be able to catch him again. He was the first guy that actually texted me once the news broke few days ago."
Avila caught in Detroit from 2009-2015, then moved onto the White Sox, and split 2017 with the Cubs and the Tigers. He next spent two seasons with the Diamondbacks and then in 2020 was the Twins backstop. Avila caught Lester while with the Cubs and Corbin in Arizona.
Scherzer moved on from the Tigers to the Nats in 2015. Here in D.C., Max won his next two
Cy Young awards in 2016 and 2017 and was named to the All-Star team seven straight campaigns from 2013-2019.
So has Avila noticed a change in how Scherzer pitches since their days together in Detroit?
"That's part of the excitement for me is seeing where he's gotten better at, what he's learned,” Avila said. “It was a different stage of his career. He was still figuring himself out. I got to see that over the course of the five years that we were teammates. It kind of culminated into really good (year) for him in 2013. But he's taken it to a whole other level obviously after signing with the Nationals. I'm going to try to help continue that for him."
Avila was considering going to go back to Detroit this offseason and play for his Dad, Al, the general manager of the Tigers. But Alex liked the idea of playing for a team ready to win in the Nationals: “I’m looking for that ring.”
Looking around at potential destinations, Avila said he got a good feeling in his talks with Nats general manager Mike Rizzo.
"From early in the offseason I thought that might be a really good fit as long as the Nationals had the same type interest,” Avila said. “Not just being familiar with some of the guys on the staff, but also the fact that they are team built to win now. Their goal is to win a World Series. I had a great conversation with Rizzo about it (Tuesday). That was in the forefront of my mind going into it, and I was very happy that Washington had same type of interest."
Now the task for Avila is to get acclimated with the other 10 or so pitchers on the Nats. Avila says that is what spring training is for, and working with pitching coach Jim Hickey and manager Davey Martinez in game planning to bring out the best in each pitcher he works with each game.
"That will be part of the challenge going into spring training,” Avila said. “I only know three of the guys on the staff so everyone will be a learning experience for me. That starts with video, that starts with conversations with them, conversations with Jim (Hickey) and Davey (Martinez) and Yan (Gomes). Yan, (I) will probably rely on the most, trying to figure out what makes these pitchers tick and me and him will have a real great working relationship."
And his relationship with Gomes is important. He said he knew of Gomes from battling him for so many seasons in the same division. Now they get to be teammates for the first time.
"I've always admired him and what he's been able to do with his career,” Avila said. “Love watching him catch. I think just the mutual respect we have for each other will allow us to kind of hit it off on the right foot and have a nice relationship going into the season."
Gomes is the incumbent, and is expected to catch at least 100 or so games if he can remain healthy. But Avila’s lefty bat will be tremendously helpful in setting the matchups each day for Martinez. But the Nats skipper has liked the flexibility of a platoon in the past. Kurt Suzuki had become Scherzer’s regular catcher. So it would make sense that Avila would take that role on now that he has joined the Nats. But it is up to the manager, as he might prefer to have Avila start against a right-handed pitcher too.
"Whenever Davey needs me in the lineup I'll be ready to go, that's kinda like my mind set," Avila said.
As far as his offense, Avila expects to be slotted lower in the Nats lineup. The catcher joked that position would be a perfect spot for him to take advantage of Scherzer’s big bat.
"One of Max's texts was ‘you get on, I'll drive you in.’ So maybe we can get Max a few RBI's," Avila smiled.