CINCINNATI — Devin Mesoraco missed the first week of the season because of a strained oblique.
He’s quickly made up for that lost time.
The Reds, at least for one day, broke out of a collective offensive funk with season-high totals for runs and hits in their 12-4 victory against Tampa Bay Sunday at Great American Ball Park. They had 13 hits, including home runs by Mesoraco, Joey Votto and Chris Heisey as they avoided a three-game sweep and improved to 4-8.
Mesoraco is one player who hasn’t been searching for his hits since he returned to the lineup last Tuesday in St. Louis. He’s got seven hits in his 14 official at-bats, including five extra base hits, with six RBI plus two walks. Mesoraco’s three-run home run into the left field upper deck bleachers in the third inning off of Tampa Bay reliever Brandon Gomes gave the Reds a 7-2 lead. He added a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning to push the lead to 6-2.
The Reds traded Ryan Hanigan to Tampa Bay in the offseason to make room for Mesoraco as the No. 1 catcher. When Hanigan missed time last season with injuries, Mesoraco got more playing time and it helped give him a comfort level behind the plate with the pitching staff. Now that comfort is showing itself in the batter’s box.
"It didn’t change anything to the offseason," said Mesoraco about the trade. "I approached this season the same way that I always do. I always prepare to catch as many games as they want to run me out there and this year was no different. I went out there and really tried to work on my swing and tried to work on my defense and sure up everything that I could."
Mesoraco was the Reds’ top draft pick in 2007. He is just 25 years old and only beginning to show what kind of all-around player he can be.
Sam LeCure pitched a scoreless eighth inning on Sunday. He walked Tampa Bay shortstop Yunel Escobar with two outs but got out of the inning by getting Hanigan to fly out to Jay Bruce in right field.
In the three previous innings, Mesoraco helped starter Tony Cingrani and rookie reliever Nick Christiani through some trouble spots that kept the Rays at a comfortable distance.
"There are the little things that you’re going to pick up just by playing the game but I’ve seen him grow over the last couple of years from the minor leagues to the time heâs been in the big leagues," said LeCure. "I think this now is a product of that growing. He’s a good catcher, he’s got a good head for what he’s trying to do and what he wants us to do. He understands each of the pitchers and what makes them successful, and he’s going to go to each of our strengths."
Those are the nuances of the game that aren’t as easy to pick up from the stands, the TV screen or the press box. It’s easy to get excited about what Mesoraco is doing with the bat.
Last season, Mesoraco, Hanigan and Corky Miller combined to hit .224 with 11 home runs and 71 RBI. Through the first two weeks of this season, the trio of Mesoraco, Brayan Pena and Tucker Barnhart has 15 hits in 43 at-bats (.349).
Joey Votto had already given the Reds a 4-2 lead in the third with a 452-foot two-run home run to straight away center field off of Tampa Bay starter Cesar Ramos. It answered a two-run home run by Ben Zobrist in the top of the inning that tied the score. Mesoraco gave the Reds breathing room as he drove in Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce in front of him with a 443-foot blast on a 0-2 pitch from Gomes.
After struggling against David Price and Alex Cobb, two of the Rays’ top starters, the Reds took out some of their offensive frustrations on Tampa Bay’s bullpen. Ramos started in place of the injured Matt Moore and the Rays used six pitchers overall. The way the Reds have been hitting to start the season, they aren’t about to quibble about the how and why of any runs scored.
"I certainly wasn’t expecting it. I just put a good swing on a pitch that was right down the middle," said Mesoraco. "I’m sure it was a mistake but those are the ones you need to capitalize on, those are the ones you need to hit."