Mesoraco eager to make the most of his chance

Devin Mesoraco knew something was up and it would involve either him or fellow Cincinnati Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan.

One of them had to go and Mesoraco wondered, “Will it be me?” He thought it might be because while Hanigan and Mesoraco were considered “1” and “1A” on the depth chart, it was Hanigan with more experience and it was Hanigan most pitchers preferred behind the plate when they pitched.

The date was Nov. 20 of last year and the Reds signed 32-year-old Cuban-born catcher Brayan Pena to a two-year contract.

So Mesoraco sat and waited for the news, hoping it wasn’t his telephone that would ring to tell him what city he would be playing in this season. It never rang.

Two weeks later, the Reds traded Hanigan to the Tampa Bay Rays as part of a three-team deal, and the Reds received pitcher David Holmberg from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I saw something coming, once I saw we signed Pena, whether it was me or Hanigan,” said Mesoraco. “I wasn’t quite sure. But I was hoping it was him (Hanigan). Things worked out well for both of us. He went to Tampa Bay, a good team, and signed a multi-year deal. And that cleared the path for me.

“I’ve always thought I was an everyday catcher, even when I wasn’t playing every day,” said Mesoraco, 25, the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick in 2007. “I had the mind-set that, hey, if I get that opportunity to go out and play every day I’m going to run with it.”

Why Mesoraco and not Hanigan? Money was probably a small issue. Hanigan made $3.25 million the last two years with the Reds and signed a three-year, $10 million deal with Tampa Bay, with a $3.75 million team option on the fourth year. While those numbers aren’t huge, the Reds will pay Mesoraco a little over $500,000 this season.

“It is his time, time to run with the opportunity,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “He has earned it. This is not just based on projection and potential. We feel the growth that Devin made last year suggests he is ready to take on a more significant role.

“He has the ability to lead, the ability to prepare with our game reports and scouting reports, an ability to transition that to the pitchers. He has really improved.”

Price invoked Hanigan’s name when talking about Mesoraco’s development:

“We all saw the evolution of Ryan Hanigan, who was terrific. And a lot of it came through the experience of being the backup to Ramon Hernandez. And he got to the point where he could run the pitching staff. It takes time to evolve and I think Devin has had enough time.”

It was no secret Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey preferred pitching to Hanigan. And that’s only natural. Hanigan was the veteran and Mesoraco was the kid learning his way.

“I’ll work a lot this spring with Cueto and Bailey, guys I didn’t catch as much, to develop our relationship a little better,” Mesoraco said.

Just because he didn’t catch them that much doesn’t mean he didn’t learn from them.

“When I wasn’t playing I’d sit in the dugout and talk to those guys about their starts, see how they liked to pitch,” he said. “I was always cognizant of watching those guys, even more than the guys I caught. If the opportunity came to catch them I wanted to be ready.”

Price acknowledged that early in his career there were pitchers who preferredMesoraco not be behind the plate when they pitched

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s common most places. Pitchers don’t want to throw to guys who don’t know them. But the pitchers, too, have to be as committed to building a relationship as the catcher does. You have to be able to communicate. You can’t sit apart in the dugout and complain about the catcher not calling the right pitch or not giving a good target or setting up late. You have to create a constant communication and Devin does that.”

Mesoraco is sturdily built at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds and has the traits scouts consider strong for catchers. As Price said, “He is thick-skinned, he is authoritative when he needs to be and he continues to grow. Being a young catcher catching pitchers with a strong history in the league is a tough dynamic. But our pitchers can now trust that Devin has a better understanding of the hitters around the league.”

Hanigan spent a lot of time sitting out with injuries last year, giving Mesoraco more time than he might have had. And it enabled him to build confidence.

“Whenever Hanigan was hurt and I started playing more the mind-set took over that it was my time now and I can go out there and play every day and show what I can do,” Mesoraco said. “But I still feel I haven’t played the way I am capable of playing. Until I really go out there and do it, all the talk doesn’t mean anything.”