Nick Dini has more familiarity with some of the pitchers on the Royals pitching staff than any other catcher in the organization.
Then there’s pitchers like Mike Montgomery, who Dini introduced himself to in the hallway outside the visitor’s clubhouse in Detroit a couple of hours before Thursday’s game. The Royals recalled Dini and put catcher Cam Gallagher on the injured list with a left oblique strain (retroactive to Aug. 5).
The Royals scratched Gallagher from the starting lineup shortly before Wednesday night’s game in Boston with left side tightness. Meibrys Viloria started that game.
Dini, who’d been with Triple-A Omaha, went right into the starting lineup for Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
“I caught most of them in side sessions in spring training,” Dini said of the staff. “The bullpen I’ve caught. The whole bullpen has basically been in Triple-A at some point this year. I’ve caught all those guys except for Kennedy, really. The starters, I’ve caught them but in side sessions not in game. So that’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment period, but we’ll try to get it as soon as we can.”
Dini, a 26-year-old New Jersey native and former 14th-round draft pick in 2015, got word while preparing to play in Omaha on Wednesday that he’d be getting called up to the majors for the first time in his professional career.
Because Gallagher hadn’t been placed on the IL yet, Dini initially had to limit the news to close family members. When the Royals announced the roster move, the messages started flooding in from friends.
“I’ve tried to just stay busy and not let my mind just go all over the place,” Dini said of joining the big-league club. “When I first pulled up here, it hit me right away. Then you get in the clubhouse and you see all these guys and it hits you.”
Dini had played just three games since returning from the injured list. He’d been sidelined for 10 days after being hit by a pitch and sustaining a broken nose.
This season for Omaha, Dini has enjoyed his best offensive season. He has posted a slash line of .296/.370/.565, hit 13 home runs and 11 doubles in 58 games. He credited his production to offseason changes he made with his swing.
“I’ve tried to hit more balls in the air as opposed to just trying to slap balls all over the place,” Dini said. “I try to stay in my legs, create some leverage. I want the outfielders to field the ball, not the infielders.”
Dini spent a portion of spring training in big-league camp before starting the season in Omaha. He and Viloria will split the catching duties, though Viloria figures to get more starts than Dini.
Royals manager Ned Yost wouldn’t get specific on how the playing would get divided other than to say it likely wouldn’t be a strict platoon even though Viloria is a left-handed hitter and Dini a right-handed hitter.
“My impressions were that he was an offensive guy, hit better than he caught, but in spring training he caught fine,” Yost said. “He looked like he could handle it. So in this situation, let’s give him a look, give him a chance. He’s worked hard. He’s had some success.”