GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Ryan Hanigan should feel like the guy posing for a group photo and after it is snapped everybody remembers everybody in the picture but Hanigan.
“Who is that guy? His face is familiar, but I can’t place him.”
That’s a little bit because the focus is on rookie and No. 1 draft pick Devin Mesoraco this spring when the talk is about catchers for the Cincinnati Reds.
Mesoraco definitely is The Future, but Hanigan remains a fixture as The Present, a guy who will share the catching duties this year while Mesoraco participates in on-the-job training.
Hanigan spent the last two years sharing the catching responsibilities with Ramon Hernandez and the tandem was productive.
Now it is Hanigan and Mesoraco — or, usually, Mesoraco and Hanigan, when they are mentioned in the same sentence.
Hanigan grounded out twice Friday against the Kansas City Royals, but guided starting pitcher Homer Bailey through three scoreless innings — one run, one hit — as the Reds won, 5-1.
While Mesoraco is a No. 1 draft pick, the 31-year-old Hanigan was signed by the Reds as a free agent after they saw him playing during the summer in the collegiate Cape Cod League.
And Hanigan wasn’t very high on the depth chart when manager Dusty Baker signed on with the Reds. David Ross was ahead of Hanigan until Baker watched and observed closely.
“Hanigan absorbed everything,” said Baker. “When we had meetings and questions were asked, Hanigan always knew the answers.”
Hanigan smiles and shrugs off the fact that the media ignores him, permits him to dress in peace, no questions asked.
Asked if feels like an afterthought, Hanigan cleared his throat loudly and said, “Uh, nah, not at all. I know what I have to do to get ready and I don’t really worry about it, don’t worry who the media is talking to and who the media isn’t talking to. That’s not my job. If guys want to ask me questions, I’m more than happy to answer them.”
And if pitchers want to ask questions, Hanigan is more than happy to answer them because of his sponge-like memory of opposing hitters.
Over the past two years, when Hanigan shared time with Hernandez, the RH Factor (Ryan Hanigan, Ramon Hernandez), starter Bronson Arroyo preferred throwing to Hanigan.
“I’m sure Mesoraco would like to be ignored so he can focus on getting himself ready, too, but he knows how it goes,” said Hanigan. “He has handled it pretty well. Personally, I don’t dwell on this stuff too much.”
What Hanigan does dwell upon is handling the pitchers, throwing out baserunners and maybe, if possible, mixing in a little offense here and there.
He played 91 games last season and hit .267 with six homers and 31 RBI. Once a dominantly pull hitter, Hanigan has learned to hit the ball the other way, becoming adept at moving runners along.
And there were some noteworthy numbers associated with the Reds when Hanigan caught. For the season, Reds pitcher posted a 4.16 ERA, but it was 3.97 when Hanigan caught. The Reds were 79-83 last season, but 38-35 in his 73 starts.
Of the upcoming season, Hanigan said, “We’ve filled some holes and did it with some established consistent players (like Mat Latos, Sean Marshall and Ryan Madson). We made moves we needed to make to get those guys and everybody in here (the clubhouse) is excited about it.
“The core of guys we have in here from last year feel we still have a lot to prove,” Hanigan added. “We had a taste of success in 2010 (NL Central title), but we weren’t very happy with what happened last year. We have a chance to put it together this year.”
Hanigan, though, warns of too much optimism, expectations that may be too high.
“At the same time, you have to play the game because it is how you play the game on the field,” he said. “It has been proven in many years by many teams — just because you have the potential doesn’t mean you win, not if you don’t execute.”
When Hanigan is wearing the mask and dropping the fingers behind the plate, the Reds need never worry about their catcher making wrong decisions or about him not executing and about him not keeping himself and his teammates focused like a cheetah starting down a gazelle.