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About Last Night: Luis Torrens steps up behind, at plate

An eventful game on both sides of the ball showed that despite an early slump, Luis Torrens is a big league catcher

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Seattle Mariners Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret at this point that Luis Torrens has been in a slump to start the year. His 32 wRC+ is above only Cal Raleigh and Stuart Fairchild, the latter of which has collected a mere trio of plate appearances. Missing a week with COVID surely didn’t help in April, but when it’s mid-May and you’re the only regular guy on the team who hasn’t gone deep yet while striking out in over a third of your turns up to bat? That’s gotta sting.

Despite his slow start at the plate, though, I’m not worried about him. In fact, I think his ceiling is higher than it’s been since he came over in the Austin Nola blockbuster. A hot take, one might think, but it’s simple: he looks like a big league catcher again.

With Tom Murphy out and Cal Raleigh’s continued struggles, Torrens has been penciled in as the ~starting catcher, and his early turnaround behind the plate has been remarkable. His arm has come back with a vengeance - a 46.2% caught-stealing rate in thirteen attempts is nothing short of marvelous. While some of his framing, especially on lower pitches, could stand to improve, that as a whole has looked much better, and that was on display on Sunday when he helped Paul Sewald seal the top of the tenth inning. Just look at that perfect freeze frame!

He’s also drawn some tough assignments - catching four out of a wild Matt Brash’s five starts is no easy task for even a seasoned defender. In last night’s game, he drew Robbie Ray, who was absolutely electric through his first four innings. Twelve up and twelve down - with seven strikeouts to boot - meant that we didn’t get to see a whole lot of Luis’s glove in the early going. He notched the Mariners’ 39848976th infield doily hit off of Aaron Nola and scored in the second inning, but other than that, things were shaping up to be pretty uneventful for Luis Torrens.

Of course, once the fifth inning began, his day became anything but.

Nicholas Castellanos led off the frame with a homer to deep left, and here Ray started to falter. Jean Segura worked a one-out walk and surprisingly took second on a deep flyout to left, and the wild Robbie Ray of yore reared his head. Despite Torrens’s often successful efforts to smother spiked sliders, Segura was brought home on two wild pitches - and really, there isn’t much you can do to block pitches like these.

rats
darn it

Johan Camargo drew another walk, and quickly, it seemed like this had the makings of another Robbie Ray Big Inning. Matt Vierling, the Phillies’ nine-hole hitter, battled him for seven pitches, and on a 2-2 count, Ray went with another back door slider. Vierling swung over it, securing the strikeout, but the ball once again found its way to the backstop. Oh. Crap. I braced myself for the inevitable two runners on with the top of the order coming up, saying my goodbyes to the lead the M’s held.

But what’s this? Good defense, clutch defense even?

Sure, that was a fortunate bounce off the brick, but talk about a perfect throw there to get a hustling Vierling. Look at how close this ended up being!

If you thought Luis was going to call it a night with that glovework, though, you hadn’t seen anything yet. In the bottom of the sixth, he stood in against Aaron Nola for the third time. Nola had just walked Jarred Kelenic with one out, and stayed cautious of him, at one point making three consecutive pickoff throws to first before an error by Rhys Hoskins sent Jarred to second. Luis got ahead 2-1, took a nasty inside breaking ball for strike two, and the battle was on.

Nola had his plus command working all night, living on the corners of the plate and notching half a dozen called strikeouts on his fastballs. Torrens had other plans, though, sandwiching a beautiful ball three take off the plate in between fouling off a ton of pitches. He finally got a middle-middle curve on the tenth pitch of the at-bat, but couldn’t square it up. Surely Nola wouldn’t groove him a fastball in the same spot, right?

Sure, the hit didn’t score Kelenic. Who cares? What mattered is that this knocked Nola out of the game, setting the stage for a pair of badly-needed insurance runs by way of an Adam Frazier walk, Ty France bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, and a J.P. Crawford sac fly. It alone may not have been a huge swing in the WPA department, but I gotta say, that felt like a turning point the instant the ball jumped off of Luis’s bat. Just take another look at this fight! If that isn’t a competitive plate appearance, I’m not sure what is.

There was one other galvanizing moment involving Torrens, though this one was less happy. Leading off the bottom of the eighth, he once again ground out a lengthy at-bat. This time, though, a nasty 3-2 splitter got him on a check swing. Slamming his bat while walking off in frustration, he was immediately ejected by home plate umpire Doug Eddings, sending Scott Servais and the Mariners’ dugout into a frenzy.

We’ve seen a lot of ump shows this season, but this one is just egregious. Torrens never said a word, his back was turned to Eddings, and the first base umpire - you know, the one that made the check swing call - had already handled the situation. If there’s a silver lining, though, it was a unifying moment for the dugout and the fans in attendance - the boos and chirps that rained down on Eddings were nothing short of delightful to see.

Whew! That’s quite a lot happening for one player in one game! Luis Torrens has certainly had bigger games, bigger at-bats, bigger moments in his time here. Tonight, though, he looked every bit like the guy with the strong Minors track record he is, and at this point has started to quiet many of the doubts surrounding his glove. The bat needs to get going, but hey, that single in the sixth was the hardest-hit ball by a Mariner all game, and even better, it was an oppo poke. If he’s turned a corner there, as well? My friend, we just might be in for another Summer of Luis.