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As MLB Opening Day 2016 approaches, Rockies catcher Dustin Garneau focuses on defense

Garneau may have the inside track as the Colorado Rockies' Opening Day backup catcher, and while he's not banking on that until it's official, he is focusing hard on his job as a receiver and pitch caller.

Offense is important to Rockies catcher Dustin Garneau, but it will never trump helping his pitchers.
Offense is important to Rockies catcher Dustin Garneau, but it will never trump helping his pitchers.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Scottsdale, Ariz. -- The last time I talked to Dustin Garneau, we focused on the catcher's role at the plate being a 'productive out' and contributing in spurts for the Colorado Rockies. And yet in the two weeks since, so much has changed for the catcher—namely, Tom Murphy's reassignment to minor league camp, likely ticketing an Opening Day roster spot for Garneau.

Oh, and there's his big announcement about twins coming soon, too, which far surpasses anything baseball-related.

But the Rockies open a baseball season in less than a week, and even if he isn't ready to punch his own ticket for the Opening Day roster yet, Garneau will play some sort of role in the big leagues this season. For the catcher, all that points to a shift in focus from our last conversation—and a cram session, if you will, perfecting relationships with the club's pitchers.

"Hitting, I’m getting better at the plate, but it's catching for me," Garneau admitted to Purple Row in the Rockies' Scottsdale clubhouse. "I’m doing what I’ve gotta do and guys like throwing to me, so I’m just getting more and more consistent with that. That’ll help me write my ticket."

One of the most likable things about Garneau is his inherent understanding of the role he plays. Not likely to be an everyday catcher save for injury issues around him, the southern California native is mature enough to understand what works for him, and what doesn't, and how to use that to his advantage.

"It has to be that way for me, and if I don’t catch well, I’m not going to be here," Garneau said about his defense-first attitude. "I have to catch well, and call a good game, and have all the pitchers trust me. That’s where it all starts."

This spring, that means Garneau has had to get to know a handful of new pitchers from varying backgrounds, and who will likely impact the club in various ways. And while early on in March he spent time learning younger guys like Carlos Estevez, Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman, and Matt Carasiti, and veteran fringe relief options like Brock Huntzinger and Brian Schlitter, now Garneau is bearing down on the men most likely to open the season in the Rockies' bullpen.

"I’ve been working hard learning all my guys more," Garneau said, hinting at that natural catcher's leadership role and taking it personally by calling them 'his' guys.

"Learning all the new veteran guys has been the biggest thing. Catching them in games is better than catching them in bullpens, because I've learned how they react to certain situations out there."

As he continues to learn his staff, especially the newcomers, Garneau is nothing if not impressed by what he sees from Chad Qualls, Jason Motte, and Jake McGee.

"A guy like Qualls, learning how he wants to go after hitters, he just does what he does with that sinker as that veteran guy," Garneau said. "And Motte has that big heater, man. It’s definitely impressive."

"And McGee," Garneau added, shaking his head in admiration, "he’s a little bit simpler with that big fastball in knowing what he wants to do to both sides of the plate. But man, he can punch tickets pretty good."

Now, the only ticket left unpunched—at least officially—is Garneau's own. A few more days of capable defense-first catching, though, and the Cal State Fullerton product may soon see his first Major League Opening Day. From there, good defense and game-calling will determine how long his ticket remains punched.