There was little doubt in the tone of Ernie Whitt’s voice and even less in his words.
In proclaiming Chris Robinson and John Suomi as his catchers for the World Baseball Classic, Canada’s manager took a shot at Russell Martin, the country’s expected starting catcher, who withdrew recently because the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baseball Canada officials wouldn’t allow him to play shortstop at the event.
“We’ll use a combination of Chris and John,” Whitt said by phone before arriving in Phoenix, where Canada will play the first round of the WBC, starting Friday against Italy (2:30 p.m. ET). “I’d much rather have guys like that than guys that might be hesitant about being there.
“We wish [Martin] would have told us earlier [of his decision to not play for Canada] but I have all the confidence in the world in the two catchers filling in because both of them want to be there to represent their country.”
Whitt said Robinson has played for him at international tournaments for about eight years including the 2006 WBC.
'He’s a solid defensive catcher and he does a lot of things positively with his bat.'— Canada manager Ernie Whitt on catcher Chris Robinson
The 28-year-old has played 566 professional games and left Baltimore Orioles camp on the weekend with two hits in five at-bats this spring training.
“He’s an underrated catcher that’s never had the opportunity to play at the big-league level,” said Whitt of Robinson, who also has spent time in the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs organizations.
“But he’s a solid defensive catcher and he does a lot of things positively with his bat.”
Handles pitchers well
Robinson, who hails from Dorchester, Ont. (near London), was described as a leader who handles pitchers well by one-time major leaguer Ryne Sandberg, who managed the catcher at AAA Iowa in 2010 in the Cubs’ system.
“He’s a general who cares very deeply about winning and he’s not afraid to show it,” Sandberg, now the Philadelphia Phillies third base coach, told the Toronto Sun.
Suomi, 32, was added to the Canadian WBC roster on Feb. 25 after Martin withdrew, and will serve as Robinson's backup.
He has appeared in 788 pro games over 12 seasons and has spent the past three seasons with the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs in the Phillies organization.
“John Suomi is a left-handed hitting catcher that seems to get better every year,” said Whitt, who is familiar with the Toronto native from his work with the Phillies as a roaming instructor. “I know what he’s capable of doing.”
In 64 games with the IronPigs in 2012, Suomi hit .265 with four home runs and 18 runs batted in. He batted .359 (28-for-78) with two homers and 11 RBIs in May and June.
“He’s a threat with the bat and is a threat defensively,” Whitt said, adding the Phillies pitchers love throwing to Suomi, whom the Oakland Athletics chose in the 22nd round of the 2000 amateur draft.