Hernandez, Hanigan just two of Reds' strong backstops
CINCINNATI -- When Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker wants to study the top-flight catchers under his thumb, he pulls out a file as thick as the Shanghai telephone directory.
And he smiles. Broadly.
He reads nothing but positives about Ramon Hernandez, Ryan Hanigan, Corky Miller, Devon Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal.
He doesn't need to read much about Hernandez and Hanigan because those are the two guys he sees every day as already members-in-great-standing with the Reds.
Hernandez and Hanigan share the catching duties -- neither is the regular, neither is the back-up. They are No. 1 and No. 1A, the RH Factor.
And they are tight friends, despite sharing the mask and chest protector.
"There is no jealousy and we are good friends and pull for one another," says Hanigan, who watched Saturday as Hernandez clubbed a grand slam home run and three hits during an 11-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Hernandez doesn't like to hear the word competition, not even friendly competition, concerning his and Hanigan's situation.
"This is not about competition between me and him," said Hernandez. "This is all about both of us going out and getting the job done when it is our turn and helping the team win. If you look at it as competition, it is never going to come out right."
It is coming out more than right. Nearly perfect. Hernandez, who hit a game-winning three-run walk-off home run on Opening Day against Milwaukee, is hitting .300 with two homers and eight RBI. Hanigan is hitting .269 with two homers and eight RBI.
"It is this -- 'You try to do your best when you play and I'll try to do my best when I play,'" Hernandez added. "You want the pitchers to know whoever is catching is going to give you his best shot. It's a big advantage for us. And we wish each other the best of luck when the other guy catches. You help the other one when he is catching if he has any questions.
"That's the way you win, as a team," he continued. "If you are selfish, then nothing goes right."
It went right for starting pitcher Mike Leake with Hernandez behind the plate -- six innings, two runs, four hits, four walks, six strikeouts and a 2-0 record.
"It's always nice to have catchers that care and produce offense for you," said Leake. "As an opposing team, you can't take a rest when either catcher is playing and the other is sitting."
It doesn't matter which plays -- the defense never suffers and the offense is provided with plentiful punch and power.
A scout from another team watched the Reds play the first series of the year and said, "I've always loved Hanigan and constantly bugged my GM to try to get him. I'm sure my GM is glad the Reds signed Hanigan to a three-year extension because now I'll shut up about him."
With the abundance, actually a surplus, of high-calibre catching possessed by the Reds, one might think a trade could be made to acquire something the team needs. That, though, is not the thought process possessed by general manager Walt Jocketty.
"Catching is a strength that we have and a strength we want to maintain," said Jocketty. "It is the toughest commodity to find. We're not interested in talking about moving anybody. Catching can be so fragile -- you could have an injury tomorrow."
In addition to Hernandez and Hanigan, two of the team's recent No. 1 draft picks are catchers.
Devin Mesoraco was picked No. 1 in 2007, right out of high school in Punxsutawney (Pa.) He is only 22, he is playing at Class AAA Louisville and after ripping the seams apart on baseballs all spring training he is still doing it at Louisville.
"He is still learning the defensive part of the game, but he is going to be a good one," said Louisville manager Rick Sweet.
Yasmani Grandal was drafted No. 1 three years later than Mesoraco, in 2010, but he also is 22 after playing college ball at Miami (Fla.) University. He is playing at High Class A Bakersfield and hit a home run Fridauy night.
And, of course, there is Corky Miller, 35, a veteran journeyman, a non-roster guy who always seems to surface in emergency situations. He is loved by fans and loved even more by his teammates, especially pitchers who soak up his knowledge that comes from experience.
Baker knows he is blessed behind the plate and doesn't hesitate a mini-second to put either Hernandez or Hanigan behind the plate.
"I'm impressed by both because they work hard and pull together," said Baker. "They're special. How do you choose one? I'm just glad we have two. Just from dealing with catchers in the past, I know it is a delicate situation. Catching is one position, not like the infield or outfield where a guy can play in several positions. There is one catcher and that's it. They've been in it all their lives and you can only catch them one at a time."
When told Grandal hit a home run for Bakersfield Friday night, Baker said, "Really? That's great. Wonderful. Let 'em all do well. We'll figure it out."