San Diego catcher Nick Hundley’s future might come down to becoming best friends with the Padres’ pitching staff.
So far, the pitchers are warming up to the former University of Arizona catcher despite him being with the big league team for less than a year.
“Nick does great,” said San Diego pitcher Chris Young. “He is a good target. He knows exactly what I am trying to do. He works with me and is a leader back there.
“I really enjoyed throwing to him last September down the stretch. I got on a great roll with him and there is no doubt this year I will be just as successful with him back there.”
Hundley, 25, did not play in San Diego’s 16-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday at Tucson Electric Park.
The Padres, who have named Hundley their starting catcher for this season, are comfortable with his bat, despite the fact he hit just .237 after being called up from Triple-A Portland in July.
The organization is monitoring his relationship with the pitchers more than anything else.
“He is really taking responsibility for a very demanding position,” said San Diego manager Bud Black. “I expect a lot from Nick. I think he has it in him to be a fine catcher in the big leagues.
“The big thing is he has to keep the lines of communications open every day. He has to talk to the pitchers. That is one thing I stress with the pitcher/catcher relationships being so important.”
“They have to trust physically he will block balls in the dirt and that he will make plays behind the plate for them late in the games.”
Nobody knows his role better than Hundley himself, who helped the Wildcats get to the College World Series in 2004.
Hundley has already earned a reputation for throwing runners out. He topped San Diego catchers a year ago by throwing out 13 of 55 potential base stealers.
The only question remaining is how he handles the pitchers and his positioning behind the plate.
“It is such a great staff, you have to make sure they are getting their strikes,” Hundley said. “If you take pitches away it is huge. When you have guys like (Colorado’s) Garrett Atkins and Todd Helton and you are not getting good pitches for your guys it is going to be a long day.”
Hundley is expected to supply more power as he gets accustomed to major league pitching. He hit 50 homers in 316 minor league games.
He had five homers, seven doubles, a triple and drove in 24 runs during his 60 games with the Padres last year.
“It was nervous at first not knowing what you were in store for and not knowing if you measure up to the best in the world,” Hundley said. “There are some good players. Each level is a huge step up. If you don’t treat it like that, you are going to be left behind.”