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Surging Mesoraco ready for big second season

Forget the phrase “sophomore slump” when it comes to Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco. If anything, the organization might well be expecting a sophomore surge. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the former Pennsylvania high school player of the year.

Mesoraco has needed a longer learning curve at each level but has made a habit of showing noticeable improvement after getting acclimated to his surroundings.

After a rough year at Class A Sarasota in 2009, Mesoraco rebounded with big numbers in Lynchburg the following year. And although his first stint at Triple-A wasn’t memorable with Louisville, he followed that with an impressive campaign that saw him named an International League All-Star.

Last year, again, was a major struggle. Mesoraco hit .212 with the Reds and threw out less than one of every five runners who tried to steal. Making matters worse, he suffered a concussion in August, then was handed a two-game suspension for bumping an umpire.

But those counting out Mesoraco after last year’s rough go with the Reds beware: the former first-round pick is showing signs that he could be due to take yet another step.

“I think if you look back at some places it took a longer amount of time than others, but I’ve always had a little adjustment period,” Mesoraco said. “For me, it’s just a matter of feeling comfortable with my teammates, feeling comfortable with the level of competition. I realize I can do this, and then I go from there. And I do feel comfortable now.”

Heading into Saturday’s split-squad games, Mesoraco was leading the Reds in runs batted in this spring (10) and was in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak that pumped his batting average to .474.

And Mesoraco hasn’t just been better on offense. Last year, he struggled to handle the pitching staff, but manager Dusty Baker said he’s seen vast improvement in that area, too.

“He’s not only hitting the ball, he’s thrown well, he’s caught well. He’s really improved. Big time. He’s more confident. Devin, throughout his career, his second year at a level has always been better,” Baker said. “He wasn’t like Buster Posey, who went to college. He came out of high school. There’s a lot to learn, not only hitting, but catching, blocking, throwing, all kinds of stuff.”

Mesoraco now has plenty of experience with starters Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo, and that comfort level has translated to success in all aspects of his game. He’s hit a pair of home runs along with a pair of doubles, showing the kind of clout he displayed for Louisville in 2011 when he was fourth in the league in two-base hits.

“When you’re playing well, things happen a lot easier than when you’re struggling. For me, it’s all about defense. It always will be. That’s something I can do every day,” he said. “Hitting-wise you’re going to have tough days, you’re going to have some good days, but defensively you can be consistent, helping the pitchers out back there. That’s what I’m trying to do. I do feel defensively that’s where more strides have been made.”

Things have changed from a year ago, when many thought he might be ready for the everyday catching job. Expectations have eased, and Ryan Hanigan’s job as the starter has been cemented.

But Mesoraco is focused and should be ready if called upon. Although he’s still in a battle for the No. 2 catching post with Miguel Olivo, Mesoraco’s spring has put him in good position to retain the position.

“You’re only gonna get so many chances in this game. You need to take advantage. The game has a very short memory, and every chance I get I need to go out there like I’ve got to prove something today and do the best I can,” Mesoraco said.

“There’s always guys looking to take your job. I’m trying to stop that from happening.”

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