The climb is straight uphill this spring for veteran catcher Miguel Olivo, who’s engaged in a battle with Devin Mesoraco for the Reds’ backup catching duties.
That doesn’t mean the task’s insurmountable for the 11-year veteran, who played the last two seasons in Seattle after previous stops with Kansas City, Florida, Colorado, San Diego and the White Sox. Olivo got his third crack at the starting lineup on Monday when the Reds hosted the Brewers at Goodyear Ballpark, a game Cincinnati won, 5-2.
Mesoraco was handed the job behind Ryan Hanigan last spring, but a lackluster performance and subsequent Triple-A stint sounded some alarms. Olivo was brought into camp as a non-roster invitee.
He hasn’t disappointed, belting the team’s first homer of the spring, a solo shot in his second at-bat of an 11-10 loss to the Indians. Not to be outdone, Mesoraco followed with a two-run shot an inning later.
Olivo could offer plenty to a team looking for depth and stability during what many are predicting to be a run at a third National League Central title in four seasons. And although it’s early, manager Dusty Baker said he’s seen good things from the veteran backstop.
“You make impressions. It’s probably, more than likely, like a three-team race basically with Hanigan being the front-runner, but then deciding on whether to keep Mesoraco or keep Olivo,” Baker said. “(Olivo’s) super strong. And he has a real good throwing arm. I’ve known that a long time. And he brings a lot of energy to the game, to the ballpark.”
Although he’s mostly caught during his time in the big leagues, Olivo played a few games at first base with Florida back in 2006, and he was taking some throws from that spot during Monday morning’s pregame workout. The Reds would have to shuffle some personnel to keep Olivo around, but with Todd Frazier gaining firm footing at third, the team will need someone to occasionally spell Joey Votto. Jack Hannahan seems the likely candidate for the duty, but Olivo could help his cause by showing versatility.
“A guy like Olivo has a lot of experience,” Baker said. “But the one drawback is he’s non-roster and you have to really, really play your way on for you to take somebody off and expose someone.”
Here’s a tip: When told that Mike Leake was helping younger hurlers learn not to tip their pitches, Baker wasn’t surprised. Not only is the right-hander a student of the game, but he’s selfless in a craft that often lends itself to unscrupulous competition.
“This is what you hope guys do for each other,” Baker said. “That’s what smart guys do. Leakey’s a ball player. From the day he got here, he’s the only guy who didn’t leave in the fifth inning. You know how they herd out like cattle in the fifth? He stays in the dugout. Leake was the only guy that sat right there next to me and next to Eric Davis and paid attention.
“He’s a team guy. You’re telling some guys that could potentially take your job. But that’s what team guys do, they’re not intimidated. We’re on the same side.”
Leake, who might be squeezed out of a starting spot if Aroldis Chapman stays in the rotation, said he’s more concerned with team goals. He’s also hopeful he’ll get a chance to help the Reds on a bigger stage this fall.
“There’s always the potential,” Leake said. “Hopefully, this is one of those years.”
Bruce sits, Choo back: Although he was expected to start in right, Jay Bruce was scratched from the lineup with what the team called a sore right heel. Bruce has yet to reach base this spring, going 0-for-4 over two games. He’s the only member of what’s expected to be the Opening Day lineup who’s yet to register a hit for the Reds.
Meanwhile, Shin-Soo Choo was back in the leadoff spot Monday and Baker said the left-handed hitter sets the table for a lineup that will often switch sides down to the seventh spot. The manager added that Choo’s value isn’t strictly as a leadoff man, but that’s where the Reds need him.
“In a perfect world, on a perfect team, he’d be a very good third hitter, but I’ve got one,” Baker said, referring to slugger Joey Votto anchoring the No. 3 spot. “(Choo) is the best we have. I think Choo could hit anywhere in the lineup, actually.”
With the lefty Choo followed by right-handed Brandon Phillips, Votto (lefty), Ryan Ludwick (righty), Jay Bruce (lefty) and Todd Frazier (righty), the lineup should present opposing managers with matchup problems.
Notes: Votto continues to show he’s ready for the regular season. Votto blasted his first homer of spring training, going the other way in depositing the first pitch he saw from Robert Wooten in the third inning over the left-field fence … Homer Bailey is expected to get the start today when the Reds play their first game away from Goodyear Ballpark, meeting the Padres out in Peoria.