Iannetta earns respect with gritty approach

Iannetta earns respect with gritty approach

The D-backs' May 12 win over the Pirates may never go down as one of Chris Iannetta's personal favorites, but it certainly marked the day Arizona discovered the catcher's mettle.

Less than 24 hours after getting hit by a pitch in that game and undergoing surgery to repair his lip and teeth, the 33-year-old veteran told manager Torey Lovullo he was ready to get back into the lineup the next day. While the D-backs ultimately erred on the side of caution and put the catcher on the DL at the time, it certainly didn't take anything away from the backstop's toughness and willingness to get back at it -- no matter what.

"I'm a baseball player, and I wanted to play," said Iannetta, who became the 21st player in baseball history with multiple seven-plus RBI games in a season in 2017. "Physically, I was fine for the most part. My lip was pretty messed up, but that got stitched back together and my head was OK. I felt like I could go out there and contribute. I just wanted to do what I love doing and do what I get paid to do. Those are the things your teammates count on.

"That's how I was brought up with my parents and grandparents. My dad, Domenic, was a hard worker. He was a mason five days a week in addition to side jobs on the weekends to provide for our family -- both the things we needed in life and a little extra. And with the costs of baseball trips and my travel ball, he always worked harder."

Growing up a fan of the Red Sox and Ken Griffey Jr. in Rhode Island, Iannetta first got behind the plate at age 10 after a teammate's injury had his coach looking for a replacement at catcher. The Rockies' all-time catching leader in games, runs and RBIs got the nod then, much like he did after D-backs teammate Jeff Mathis' hand injury this season which thrust him into the lone starter's role to close out the regular season after the duo split duties with Chris Herrmann for most of 2017.

"This is something I've done my whole career, so it wasn't tough to jump back into that starting role," Iannetta said. "For me, it's about doing whatever I can to help the team win and keep us on track. That was my main focus when Jeff went down.

"Working with our pitchers, it was tougher when I was younger and trying to prove I was capable of doing things in respect to the guys on the mound. But now that I've been doing this for a long time, you get that sense of immediate respect, so now it's not too bad. I like working with pitchers who are prepared. The ones who do their homework, who truly understand what they are capable of doing and know what the opposing team is capable of doing offensively. ... Those guys can really execute a game plan. That's when it's really fun."

Iannetta has long worked with friend, mentor and former Expos middle infielder John Mello, who first helped the D-backs' catcher develop an appreciation for mastering the fundamentals -- regardless of position or spot in the batting order.

"You have to put the time in on mechanics and your approach," Iannetta said, who spent the majority of his starts hitting either second or seventh in the D-backs' order. "John is a great baseball guy with hitting, throwing and understanding the game.

"When it comes to hitting, I'm a baseball player. Wherever you are in the lineup is great. I'm just happy to be in there. It doesn't matter if I'm hitting first or ninth. You are in there to get an opportunity to contribute. It's a little easier to hit No. 2 than No. 8. Guys don't want to face A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and J.D. Martinez behind me, so they come after me. I see a lot more quality pitches, so it comes down to deciding if I want to swing at the borderline ones. We have a really talented bunch. We have some of the best hitters and pitchers in baseball. It's fun to be a part of this club."

Josh Greene is the D-backs' director of publications. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.