LOS ANGELES -- Any hopes for Devin Mesoraco to be behind the plate for 140 games for the Reds this season evaporated in April when the All-Star catcher suffered a hip impingement injury that eventually required season-ending surgery.
Without Mesoraco, Brayan Pena has caught a lot in his place. But Cincinnati has also been able to see what it has in young catcher Tucker Barnhart. And the answer has been, plenty. Barnhart entered Friday batting .259 with three home runs, but has a .340 on-base percentage in his 46 games. In his 40 starts, he has hit safely 25 times and he's received good reviews for his defense.
"The experience is priceless," Barnhart said. "It's allowed me to have a lot more confidence as a player. It's helped my play."
Barnhart, 24, was a 10th round pick in the 2009 Draft, and the Zionsville, Ind., resident rose steadily through the system each season. He got some big league exposure in 2014 when Mesoraco twice went on the disabled list and batted .185 in 21 games.
"The more and more experience that you gain, the better you are, obviously. Seeing pitchers for the second and third time definitely helps," Barnhart said. "You know what they like to do as far as game plans are concerned. You can build a better game plan as a hitter going into the at-bat."
Manager Bryan Price has employed a hybrid platoon with Pena and Barnhart -- both are switch-hitters -- where they often alternate who catches more week-to-week. Barnhart is much stronger left-handed with a .289 average, vs. .138 as a right-hander. He's contemplated batting lefty exclusively, but the organization will have input on the decision.
"I think it's something I will re-visit in the offseason but I'm definitely switch-hitting for sure the rest of this season," Barnhart said.
The veteran Pena can be a free agent after the season, while Barnhart is expected to be in the long-term plans of the club. Price doesn't plan on increasing Barnhart's playing time to make him a lineup regular, however.
"Catching every day, I don't think so. I never say never but I kind of like the blend of the two of them," Price said. "I like what Tucker has done. He's matured greatly. He calls a good game. He's a great catch and throw guy and he's done way more offensively than I initially anticipated. Brayan brings Brayan Pena every day - he's high energy, totally locked in on doing his job and working with the pitchers. Beyond the physical attributes, there is a certain energy I like in having Brayan on the field."
Barnhart is fine with the current set-up. Either way, he's gaining from the situation.
"I try to come to the park every day feeling like I'm going to play in the way I prepare and go through batting practice. If I'm not in the lineup, I sit back, watch and learn," said Barnhart, who did not start on Friday.