CINCINNATI — This season hasn’t been an easy one for Ryan Hanigan. The Reds’ catcher came out of spring training banged up and then hit the disabled list before the first month was completed because of a strained oblique muscle.
A sore left leg kept him out of the lineup for nearly a week until getting the start Monday, and his batting average, well, it hasn’t seen the north side of .200 for a long time.
“It’s been a battle but it’s easy not to feel pain when you’re having a night like tonight,” said Hanigan on Tuesday night after catching Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter in nine months.
Bailey faced just one batter over the minimum as the Reds beat the San Francisco Giants 3-0 at Great American Ball Park. Only a leadoff walk to Gregor Blanco on a 3-2 pitch in the seventh inning kept him from pitching the second perfect game in Cincinnati franchise history.
These are the kinds of games that are expected out of players drafted in the first round, as Bailey was by the Reds in 2004 as a Texas high school senior. Not far behind the scenes, or the plate in this case, is a guy like Hanigan. He was never drafted. The Reds signed him as a free agent in 2002 after seeing him play in the Cape Cod League.
Hanigan climbed the minor league ranks and has been in the Major Leagues since an August 2008 call-up. For a pitching staff that, aside from Bronson Arroyo, doesn’t have a starter over the age of 27, Hanigan is an invaluable piece of the puzzle.
“He’s the type of guy that kind of cultivates these relationships with the starting pitchers and you find that these guys really like to throw to him,” said pitching coach Bryan Price. “They have the ability to get on the same page. They know that he’s working for them on their behalf. From what he accomplished last year with his catcher’s ERA, his stolen base percentage, he’s been a huge part of this ball club and the development of this staff. I think we definitely need to acknowledge that.”
Hanigan had a 3.04 catcher’s ERA in 2012, the lowest in MLB. He was third in the National League in fielding percentage among catchers and he was behind the plate for 11 of the staff’s 12 shutouts and six of its nine complete games last season.
After Bailey walked Blanco in the seventh, he followed with a first-pitch ball to Marco Scutaro. As dominant as Bailey had been, the game certainly wasn’t out of reach of the Giants, especially with catcher Buster Posey in the on-deck circle.
Hanigan jogged out to the mound.
“His ball starts to run, his fastball, when he doesn’t get extension, and I didn’t like that,” said Hanigan. “I wanted it to be more true. I always try to give him a little tick with my hand as a reminder, but he said ‘I’m all right.’ I said ‘I know you are, but just get some more extension.’ I just wanted the ball to be truer so it didn’t run middle.”
No rah-rah stuff here. Stick to the basics and to what was working.
Bailey got Scutaro to hit into a groundout to third baseman Todd Frazier. Blanco was erased on a fielder’s choice play while trying to advance to third when Posey grounded to Joey Votto at first base. Bailey struck out Pablo Sandoval swinging to end San Francisco’s lone scoring threat of the game.
“It’s my job to keep him in check,” said Hanigan. “I get excited but I was really concentrating on his demeanor. Sometimes he’d step off the mound for too long, and I didn’t like that, or sometimes he’d hold on to the rosin bag and look up, and I didn’t like that, so I wanted to make sure he was just on the hill, not thinking, and attacking. I was just trying to keep him in check pretty much.”
Bailey threw his first no-hitter last September 28 at Pittsburgh, beating the Pirates 1-0 on a night in which he walked just one and struck out 10. Hanigan was behind the plate for that game, too. The two have been playing together since 2006 at Chattanooga in the Double-A Carolina League.
While Bailey’s ascension to the big league club was expected and constantly monitored, Hanigan’s was quiet.
They’ve arrived in the same place.
“(Hanigan) does his homework, does his diligence and pretty much whatever he puts down I feel pretty comfortable with,” said Bailey. “There are a lot of times we’ll go through a sequence of pitches and he’s calling something and I already have the grip for it before he even puts it down. I know what he’s going to do. You kind of know what he’s doing. You go with the scouting reports, you have an understanding of what we’re trying to do and that just makes the game flow faster.”