Kurt Suzuki learned of his trade from the Athletics to the Nationals around 11 a.m. PDT Friday. His first reaction upon hearing the news?
"Get me on the first flight out," the 28-year-old catcher said. "I want to be there as soon as I can to help the team. I was really looking forward to this opportunity. This is a good situation for me."
Suzuki arrived in Washington late Friday night and this afternoon was strolling through the clubhouse at Nationals Park in a red curly W cap, shaking hands and meeting new teammates, coaches, clubhouse attendants and media members. All this before actually taking his position behind the plate for his Nationals debut at 7:05 p.m.
"It's been a whirlwind, for sure," he said.
Suzuki, who was dealt from Oakland in exchange for minor-league catcher David Freitas, immediately takes over as the Nationals' No. 1 catcher. The man he replaces, Jesus Flores, wasn't nearly as excited to learn of the trade and his subsequent relegation to a reserve role but cleared the air with manager Davey Johnson during a closed-door meeting this afternoon.
"I had a long conversation with Jesus, and we're alright," Johnson said. "We're good to go. ... We got an established catcher. Jesus was playing very well about three years ago before suffering a major shoulder injury. He's made great strides in coming back, but he's not quite where I know he can be. That was basically the conversation."
Though the Nationals announced the Suzuki trade around 2:30 p.m. Friday, Flores told reporters he hadn't been informed of the deal when asked for his reaction eight hours later at the conclusion of a doubleheader split with the Marlins.
"That's just part of the life we lead," Johnson said. "Midseason trades are obviously more difficult than offseason trades. But he's not going anywhere. His role has changed a little bit. Your role is predicated on performance. The better you play, the bigger the role you get. That's kind of the way baseball has been played ever since I can remember."
Suzuki has spent his entire, six-year career with the A's, and other than ex-teammate Gio Gonzalez, he's never caught anyone on the Nationals staff. He took a crash course on various pitchers' repertoires, particularly Jordan Zimmermann, who starts tonight's game.
"That's the most important thing: To build that relationship with the pitchers," he said. "That's what I take my pride in. It's going to definitely be a little bit of a work in progress, but I'm going to do everything I can to speed up the process. I think it'll be OK."
The Nationals want Suzuki -- who at the time of the trade led all qualifying AL catchers with a .996 fielding percentage and 38.3 percent caught stealing percentage -- to focus primarily on his defensive game for now, helping guide what has been baseball's best pitching staff this season through a pennant race.
"That's the one thing I'm really looking forward to, working with these pitchers, getting to know them," he said. "I had a great pitching staff in Oakland for a number of years, and to come here, these guys are incredibly talented. I've been watching them on TV and watching them pitch, and I'm really excited."
To clear space on the active roster for Suzuki, the Nationals optioned Sandy Leon to Class AAA Syracuse.