Although many of his teammates had yet to unpack, Devin Mesoraco stood behind a covered batting cage during Tuesday’s opening session of spring training, working on his swing with a number of coaches.
While newcomer Miguel Olivo took batting practice pitches to right field, Mesoraco mimicked the veteran’s inside-out swing off to the side.
To say Mesoraco’s February has a vastly different tone than the one he enjoyed a year ago is an understatement.
At that time, he was fresh off a season with Louisville that saw him win the team’s MVP award, he was named a Baseball America Class AAA All-Star, and in his first major league plate appearance during a September callup the former first-round selection knocked a double off the left-field wall.
Now, Mesoraco needs to get back to that happy place after a 2012 in which he struggled with the backup catching duties. The team brought Olivo in this spring on a minor-league deal as insurance.
Baker makes no qualms that he’s looking for more from Mesoraco, but he also said he isn’t the first newbie to struggle in the spotlight of the game’s top stage.
“I’m looking to see improvement. He lost some confidence last year. It happens. He’s not the first young player or older player that I’ve seen that happen with,” Baker said Wednesday. “Especially younger players, it’s the first time they felt like they failed. Like Joe Morgan was saying, it was difficult sometimes for a young player, especially a young catcher, because he has so much responsibility, to come in and win.”
Still, Baker is hoping the youngster can get back on the track he was on last year, when the club gave him every opportunity to play.
“We’re not really sure what’s going to happen this year either. He’s a heck of a talent. He’s really young,” Baker said. “I was a little apprehensive before. Especially with him platooning and not being out there every day. Could you turn over your pitching staff to inexperience that you don’t know versus Hannigan that you know can handle it, and win?”
HENSLEY HOPING: New reliever Clay Hensley is trying to get comfortable in his new environment, but the surroundings he sees are pretty familiar. A young ball club with limitless potential. A solid starting staff with a deep bullpen. After spending last year with the San Francisco Giants, Hensley has some expertise on spotting up-and-coming clubs, and he wouldn’t be surprised to see similar results with the Reds.
“The Reds have always been a good team and I think the young guys are coming into their own. It’s one of the toughest lineups in the National League, no doubt, and they’ve had a great bullpen and a great rotation,” Hensley said. “If everyone can stay healthy and continue to build, it’ll be a successful season.”
The eight-year veteran is fighting for a spot on the Reds’ roster this spring, and said he’d been in contact with the club off and on over the years. He also thinks some tinkering in the off-season could get him back his mid-summer form of last year, when he had a 2.95 earned run average. A September swoon cost him a spot on the Giants’ postseason roster.
“I worked out some kinks this off-season, some mechanical adjustments, that I think have held me back a little and I’m looking forward to coming in here and throwing well,” Hensley said. “As far as roles, I’m gonna let that stuff work itself it.”
CUETO TO WBC? Don’t expect Dusty Baker to give his full endorsement to ace Johnny Cueto participating in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, which starts in early March.
Although Cueto says he’s fully recovered from the oblique injury that forced him out of the postseason last year after just eight pitches, Baker said he’s not thrilled with the idea of his ace getting extended work before the Reds open the regular season on April 1.
“We have spring training for a reason, where a guy goes two, four, five, five and seven innings,” Baker said on Wednesday. “Imagine a 0-0 game or 1-0 against Venezuela where you’ve gotta take him out. He’s not gonna come out, I don’t think.”
Still, Baker understands Cueto’s plight. Although the 27-year-old hasn’t been officially summoned by his country to play, Baker knows from his experiences in Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico that passing on a chance to play for the national club is frowned upon.
“There’s more national pride than anywhere I’ve almost seen. Guys from Venezuela, guys from Cuba, guys from the Dominican, you see how big the Caribbean series is,” Baker said. “It’s bragging rights for Latin America. They think it could be where the best overall baseball is played.”
Some of Cueto’s teammates will be excused for the tournament, as second baseman Brandon Phillips is on a provisional roster for the United States while shortstop Ray Chang (China), and pitchers Loek Van Mil (Netherlands) and Chris Manno (Spain) are also expected to play.
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