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Hanigan's emergence bolsters Reds behind plate

Hanigan's emergence bolsters Reds behind plate
Reds pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Spring Training on Feb. 12. As part of an Around the Horn series of stories on the club at different positions, MLB.com will examine the 2013 Reds as they prepare to defend their National League Central title, and perhaps go further. First up: catchers.

CINCINNATI -- Although Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan might rank lower on name recognition for fans outside of Cincinnati, especially with Buster Posey and Yadier Molina in the National League, he commands respect.

The 2012 season was one in which Hanigan emerged from the shadows to become more prominent than ever. It creates plenty of optimism for what he can do entering 2013.

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Reds starting pitchers last season were fourth in the NL in ERA while their relievers had the best ERA in the Majors. That reflects a bunch on the guy receiving the ball and not just the guys throwing it and for a career-high 112 games and 98 starts last season, it was Hanigan.

Among Major League catchers, Hanigan's 3.05 ERA for his pitchers was the lowest in baseball. He caught 11 of the staff's 12 shutouts and six of the nine complete games, including Homer Bailey's Sept. 28 no-hitter at Pittsburgh.

Opposing baserunners know Hanigan, too, as he nailed an NL-best 48 percent (32-of-66) attempting to steal.

Hanigan, 32, is entering the final year of a three-year, $4 million contract with Cincinnati. He and veteran Ramon Hernandez spent 2009-11 in a strong tandem system that produced results, especially offensively.

When the Reds passed on retaining the free agent Hernandez last winter, Hanigan was expected to split the job with prized rookie Devin Mesoraco. But when Mesoraco sputtered, especially offensively, Hanigan became the primary catcher.

"I trained for it in the offseason to be a starting guy and to catch as many games as they want me out there," Hanigan said in October. "I always tell them to run me out there and that I'm ready for whatever."

The preferred catcher for Bronson Arroyo for several years, Hanigan also became the main batterymate for ace Johnny Cueto and new arrival Mat Latos. The reviews were usually strong. Hanigan also became preferred by Aroldis Chapman, and sometimes if he wasn't starting, he entered games to work with the then-closer in the ninth inning.

Offensively, Hanigan often had a disciplined approach as he hit .274 with a .365 on-base percentage while batting mostly in the No. 8 spot. Partly as a result, his overall production took a dip as he notched only two home runs and 24 RBIs after having six homers and 31 RBIs over 90 games in 2011.

Reds catchers -- Hanigan, Mesoraco and Dioner Navarro -- combined to rank 29th of 30 teams with nine homers and 28th with 50 RBIs.

Mesoraco will return looking for success after a rookie season that proved frustrating. He batted .212 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 54 games.

After he served a two-game suspension for bumping an umpire, he was briefly demoted to Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 23. But after his return in September, he was given only three at-bats and was left off of the postseason roster.

"I'm still the player most people think I can be and I was at one time," Mesoraco said in September. "It's not like it's been 10 years that's changed me. It's been 200 at-bats maybe. Whenever I get a chance again I will show that I am the same player."

Mesoraco, who is still only 24, largely caught for No. 4 starter Bailey and No. 5 starter Mike Leake. His pitchers went 24-24 in the games he started and the staff had a 4.19 ERA when he was behind the plate. Only 20 percent of runners (10-for-49) were caught stealing.

One could wonder if Mesoraco might have benefited from a trip to Louisville earlier last season to stay sharp and get his confidence back as a hitter. The organization can only look forward now, though.

Not used to playing sparingly, Mesoraco could get more playing time if he shows improvement this spring. The Reds wouldn't mind giving Hanigan more rest to keep him from wearing down offensively later in the season.

Should anything happen to Hanigan or Mesoraco, the Reds would have some depth issues. The club has no prospects in Triple-A, and after Navarro signed a big league contract with the Cubs this winter, the Reds have only veteran Corky Miller waiting in the wings. Miller is a clubhouse favorite and handles pitchers well but batted .235 last season at Louisville and owns a .188 career average in the Majors, where he last played in 2010.

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

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