CINCINNATI — Devin Mesoraco punched the buttons on his smart phone, a call to Louisville, Ky., a place he likes to call but not a place in which he likes to work.
Mesoraco, the No. 1 draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, received shock treatment last season — a demotion to Louisville, home of the Reds Class AAA affiliate.
The 24-year-old catcher from Punxsutawney, Pa., called Louisville Wednesday to talk to Corky Miller, the 37-year-old catcher for the Louisville Bats.
Mesoraco was doing due diligence, taking the extra step to gain knowledge, something to help him become a trustworthy teammate.
What Mesoraco sought was information on rookie pitcher Tony Cingrani, who was making his major league debut as a starter on Thursday night. Mesoraco only caught Cingrani five or six innings during spring training. And since Miller was Cingrani’s catcher at Louisville before Cingrani’s call-up Thursday, Mesoraco was taking the extra step.
It is the type of thing he hopes will prevent him from another step backward.
And so far this year Mesoraco is showing advancement — a .267 average with three doubles and three RBI in his five starts.
Mesoraco is sharing time behind the plate with veteran Ryan Hanigan, a share-the-duties system manager Dusty Baker has used for the past five years.
When asked if it would be ideal for Hanigan to catch three of every five games and have Mesoraco catch the other two, Baker said, “Ideally, I’d like to catch who can help us the most that night. I don’t like either one of them to be off two or three days in a row. But it happens. Ideally, you’d like a Yadier Molina (St. Louis catcher). That’s what you’d like. He’s the best there is in the game.
“You’d ideally like an offensive catcher who shuts down the running game, blocks balls in the dirt. Who knows? We might have that, but we have what we have right now.”
Typically, when Mesoraco was asked about his role, he expressed concern for somebody else — on this night Tony Cingrani.
“He doesn’t have a major league win and hopefully we can get him one tonight,” said Mesoraco.
But he eventually harkened back to last season when he hit .212 and found himself back in Louisville.
“I look back to last season and I have a better understanding of how limited your opportunities actually are,” he said. “I have a better appreciation of really working and concentrating on doing a job that will help my team win games.”
Mesoraco paused as the memory flashed across his face and said, “I saw last year what can happen if you don’t perform.”
To give him aid and comfort, Mesoraco finds positive things to do on days he is not assigned to catch.
“I’m doing a lot more work than I have in the past, as far as doing some early hitting and doing a lot more catching stuff to try to replicate a game feeling so I can be ready when I play. The name of the game is production and if I play the way I know I can play things will take care of themselves.”
Mesoraco concentrated on working with the pitchers, helping them through the bumps and bruises of a game, after making the team last year. Offense? Well, his job was to guide the pitchers and offense was secondary.
Now he knows defense is only half the battle and offense needs to be there, too, ala Yadier Molina.
“I looked at a lot of tapes over the winter of times when I was going good, of when I was happy with my swing,” he said. “It is still an effort to improve, but I feel I’m much closer to where I should be. Last year I was struggling and struggling and trying to create stuff, re-create the wheel.”
Mesoraco now realizes that when an inning is over and the pitcher has gone 1-2-3, it is time to shed the shin guards and the chest protector and think about how it feels with a bat in his hands.
“My first priority as a catcher is to develop a good game plan with the pitcher,” he said. “But there are two parts of the game. I’ve learned that when I’m on defense I am 100 percent focused on defense and whenever we get the third out and get back to the dugout, it isn’t fair to myself or the team if I was still focused on the last pitch. That’s the time to shut defense all down and try to have a good at-bat.”
So, other than an occasional call to Corky Miller, Mesoraco hopes he can keep Louisville out of sight and out of mind.