The yellow fingernail polish stays on the shelf. It’s bright, bright like a screaming caution light. It was one means of communicating with his pitchers and the middle infielders. Now, ‘shortstop’ Jalen Washington focuses on new ways to communicating his value to a program that will depend on his leadership.
COLUMBUS — Jalen Washington has stowed the catching gear, passed it and the position along to Jacob Barnwell. But the nail polish, the bright yellow fingernail polish, it stays.
He laughs at the notion. “Oh, yeah,” he says, “you never know. I might need it again.”
During last season’s run to the Big Ten Championship, OSU coach Greg Beals was forced to juggle the line-up on numerous occasions and at several positions—first base, second base, right field and designated hitter—but regardless of conditions or circumstances, Washington was a mainstay.
The senior co-captain started behind the plate in 59 of OSU’s 63 games, including all four games that concluded the Big Ten Tournament—four games that were played in a span of 30 hours.
His 55 innings over the course of six games set a new Big Ten tournament record. It was a remarkable achievement by any measure—given the physical demands of the position, and one that helped him earn a spot on the All-Tournament team.
“He’s a remarkable young man,” Beals said. “He gave us stability and leadership. Everyone knew that no matter what, Jalen was going to be there.
“No matter how dead his legs might have been, Jalen answered the bell. But, there he was…You really can’t measure what Jalen did for us last season.”
Catching was not Washington’s natural position. He came to OSU a strong, quick middle-infielder with good speed and good hands. But second and short were positions crowded with the likes of proven players like Nick Sergakis, Craig Nennig, Troy Kuhn and L Grant Davis.
So, when an opening emerged behind the plate heading into the 2016 season, Washington jumped at it. He had never started behind the plate, but that didn’t deter him.
“I just felt like this was a spot where I could help my team the most, so I went for it and worked as hard as I could,” Washington said.
“When I saw a chance to be on the field every day and help the team, I made the move,” Washington said.
For all his dependability and his ability to communicate with pitchers and the coaching staff, Washington was capable behind the plate. He was not, however, a top-flight receiver.
“He was a top-flight leader,” Beals said. “He was a top-flight competitor and a top-flight athlete.”
Beyond that, he gave the Buckeyes something Beals viewed as essential.
“I just felt like I needed that guy that everybody in the program trusted and believed in, and that’s what Jalen is,” Beals said.
Washington was charged with 14 passed balls last season, while the pitching staff recorded 50 wild pitches. Perhaps no call by an official scorer is more subject to discretion and subjectivity than the difference between the WP and the PB. OSU’s opponents were credited with 37 WP’s.
On the other side of the coin, Washington threw out a league high 17 base stealers.
Beals makes no bones about it. He believes Barnwell gives the Bucks “next level” catch-and-throw skills behind the plate while Washington will prosper offensively at short.
“My hope is that Jalen is more productive offensively with the move to shortstop because it won’t be so taxing on his body,” he says. “I know that last year there were times when his legs were tired—had to be tired—but he always answered the bell.”
Washington hit .249 last season and his 38 RBI ranked third on the team behind Ronnie Dawson (51) and Nick Sergakis (47).
In conference play, he hit .203 with 16 RBI and six stolen bases. During the tournament with 53 starts under his belt, he batted .238 with a pair of doubles and four RBI. He also threw out three would-be base stealers.
“Jalen produced in stressful situations, championship situations,” Beals said.
Washington is a straight-forward, look-you-in-the-eye individual. B.S. is not part of his M.O. Consequently, he’s reserved when it comes to discussing the upcoming season.
“At first and after all the people we lost to the draft and graduation (17), I honestly didn’t know what this season would be like,” he said. “Now, after watching these guys, I believe we’ve got some real talent, some guys who can really play. But, it’s always a matter of how the talent comes together…we’re still getting to know one another on a deeper level. That was the thing about last year’s team. We were so close and we believed in the same thing.”
And that may be where Washington plays a most important role this season. He is the player who will keep others from straying from the pack, setting personal performance above a common team purpose.
He did it last year.
“Over the course of the season, we had some guys we had to reel in and we did,” Beals said. “That’s where Jalen’s leadership came into play, and if he has to, he’s quite capable of doing it again. Believe me. We’ve got an awful lot of new people this year.”
As for the move to short, that’s a bittersweet matter for Washington.
“I really fell in love with catching last season,” he said, “being in control of the game, handling the pitching staff. But I am very comfortable at short and hopefully, hopefully the move will help me improve at the plate and I can steal more bases. We’ll see.”
So, the yellow fingernail polish stays on the shelf. It’s bright, bright like a screaming caution light. It was one means of communicating with his pitchers and the middle infielders. Of course, he has other ways of communicating, too.
He’s one of those players whose numbers say so little about his performance. You don’t get around Jalen Washington and you don’t get by with much.