By JACK THOMPSON
PHOENIX (AP) — Devin Mesoraco had a breakout season in 2014, hitting 25 homers and making the All-Star team. Now the Cincinnati Reds catcher is just trying back to get on the field and, he hopes, stay there.
“The past two years are the only two summers that I’ve just sat there and watched and not been able to play,” Mesoraco said Wednesday.
Cincinnati’s first-round pick in 2007 progressed through the minors and became a big league regular in 2013. A year later, he hit .273 with all those home runs — among National League regulars, only Giancarlo Stanton and Troy Tulowitzki hit more homers per at-bat than Mesoraco did that season.
But since then, serious injuries have kept the 28-year-old Mesoraco not only from repeating that success, but even attempting it. In 2015, he started just five games behind the plate and eventually had surgery on his left hip.
He returned for the beginning of last season, but didn’t play after April. His left (non-throwing) shoulder needed an operation to repair the labrum, and in July he was back for more surgery, this time on his right hip.
In the last two seasons, Mesoraco has played in just 39 games with 95 at-bats, a .158 average and no home runs. Now the native of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania — home of the popular groundhog called on each year to predict the winter weather — is hoping to avoid his own “Groundhog Day” time loop of injuries.
“We’re working our way through that process now. Everything’s going very well,” Mesoraco said at Cincinnati’s camp. “We’re doing everything. Catching, running the bases, blocking balls. There’s nothing that I haven’t done. It’s just a matter of trying to replicate the game the best that we can.”
But given the last two years, combined with an earlier spring training schedule due to the World Baseball Classic, everyone is taking it slowly.
Reds manager Bryan Price agreed that Mesoraco is progressing well.
“We’ve got a program for him that’s going to stretch into March before we consider getting him into a game, and we knew that coming in,” he said.
Price will probably use Tucker Barnhart behind the plate most of the time as he did last season, while trying to work Mesoraco in when he’s ready to go.
“We’ll get him through spring training and get him ready for the season as we typically would,” Price said. “We’ll see if by opening day if he’s got the durability and capacity to catch nine innings on a fairly regular basis, which may start as a job share.”
“I think that’s probably the safest bet, to give him ample time to recover before I increase the workload of the regular season,” he said.
Mesoraco says both hips feel fine now.
“Whenever they feel like I’m healthy enough to play, I’ll be out there,” he said. “I’m happy with the way things are going and it continues to get better.”
The catcher acknowledges that he still has to keep his expectations down for all aspects of the game, including offense. He started hitting again in January after another long layoff.
“It may take some time,” he said. “But I have 100 percent confidence that I can get back to being the player I was.”