Suzuki settles in to challenge of catching Dickey

Suzuki settles in to challenge of catching Dickey

SAN FRANCISCO -- When the Atlanta Braves close out their three-game series with the Giants at AT&T Park on Sunday, Kurt Suzuki will be back behind the plate where he always is whenever knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is on the mound.

In his first year with Atlanta, Suzuki has emerged as Dickey's personal catcher. He has caught all nine games the right-hander has started this season, no easy task considering the intricacies -- and physical beating -- it takes to field the knuckleball.

It's a process that has taken some time but one the 33-year-old Suzuki has grown more comfortable with as the season has progressed.

"He's done a really good job," Braves manager Brian Snitker said prior to Saturday night's game against the Giants. "The last few games that [pitch] has been really good, too. He's handled it really, really well. He just keeps getting after it and working at it. He's done a phenomenal job, I think."

Catching offspeed pitches can be taxing enough for a full nine innings. Trying to catch a ball that dips, dives, dances and dangles can be outright brutal -- and that's on a good day when the knuckleball is thrown well.

An everyday catcher most of his career before accepting a backup role with the Braves, Suzuki appears to have settled in after a shaky start.

He was charged with three passed balls in the first game he worked with Dickey in Pittsburgh on April 8 but has had only one since then -- against the New York Mets on April 27. That's a noteworthy jump for a player who previously had little to no experience being on the receiving end of pitches from a knuckleballer.

Hanson scores on passed ball

Offensively, Suzuki is batting .269 with three home runs and 15 RBIs.

Snitker noted Suzuki's progress despite the constant beating he takes trying to block Dickey's pitches that bounce in the dirt.

"He's got to be just mentally exhausted when the game's over as much as physically," Snitker said. "It's why I told R.A., 'You could probably throw a whole bunch but I'm not sure he can catch 'em all.' After a certain amount that poor guy gets wore out.

"I think he's probably just learning how to just kind of sit there and relax in his positioning, because I know he gets in a really relaxed position and he catches it deep when he does it to try to give himself a chance."

Michael Wagaman is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Braves on Saturday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.