Mesoraco's health could be key to offense

Reds counting on catcher's return from hip injury

Mesoraco's health could be key to offense

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Especially after the winter trade of Todd Frazier and with a lineup that will need to provide a young rotation with ample run support, the Reds will need the bat of catcher Devin Mesoraco more than ever.

If Cincinnati gets the 2014 version of Mesoraco, who hit 25 home runs with 80 RBIs and an .893 OPS, that would be vital production. But a left hip injury and a June surgery derailed Mesoraco in 2015. He played 23 games and caught nine of them.

During Spring Training, Mesoraco has been working his way back and incrementally increasing his innings total. Because of an early setback, where he had a sore groin and hip flexor, he didn't play in a game until March 17.

But on the third pitch of that first game, Mesoraco showed his pull power was right where it has always been. He crushed a home run well over the left-field fence.

"Hitting-wise, now that I'm healthy, I feel like I'm only trying to get back to what I was doing in '14," Mesoraco said. "Last year, I was out there hitting, and it didn't really bother me, but at the same time, I wasn't really the same. I just couldn't use my lower half the way I typically do. But now everything is just working to get back to where I was, and it's getting better and better."

In 2014, 18 of Mesoraco's homers and more than half of his RBIs came when he pulled the ball. While his repaired hip required some changes to his catching technique to prevent trouble in the future, no adjustments have been needed for hitting.

"I don't see that he's lost anything from this injury," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "But just continuing to get his strength and durability back will be a key. From an offensive standpoint, I think he's looked really good from his first at-bat to his last at-bat. He's got a good approach, and he works really hard at it. I think his best days offensively are ahead of him."

Brayan Pena and Tucker Barnhart replaced Mesoraco last season and combined to hit three homers -- all from Barnhart. Pena left as a free agent in the offseason. If Mesoraco needs more rest than he might usually take, Barnhart will again be the backup. The club has the potential of added depth if utility player Jordan Pacheco makes the club since he can also catch.

Ramon Cabrera, if he doesn't make the team, will be a phone call away in Triple-A Louisville. Again, none of those guys are Mesoraco.

"You saw the impact of not having Devin and Zack [Cozart] at the same time and what [effect] that had on our ball club," Price said. "I didn't expect between Brayan and Tucker that we were going to have Mesoraco-type production. I'm excited to have him back for a multitude of reasons, but having the offensive component certainly puts us in a position to be more productive offensively than we were last year."

Despite showing confidence in Spring Training and looking well since returning from the setback, only time will tell if Mesoraco's hip can withstand the grind and punishment of catching during a season. He was bullish that it would pass the test.

"Honestly, I feel good," Mesoraco said. "It will be a work in progress; some things we'll have to monitor. I feel that, as far as a health standpoint, that I'm healed. I'm definitely healed. It's not something I'm going to have to grit through or toughen out."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.