Devin MesoracoÃ‚Â has been diagnosed with a hip impingement that has prevented him from catching since April 12. I wrote on April 23 that his days catching for the Reds this year were likely over. I’d hoped that my research and sources were wrong, but turns out they weren’t.
Because of Mesoraco’s limitations – he can hit but not play the catcher position – theÃ‚Â Reds have been somewhat shorthanded for the past six weeks. Six weeks. I say somewhat because most of those days, Mesoraco has been available to pinch hit. Any player the Reds would have called up to take his place likely would have just served as a pinch hitter anyways. There have been only a handful of games where an extra position player would have been helpful.
Over those six weeks, Mesoraco had 28 plate appearances. He’s recorded six hits – four singles, a double and a triple – and four walks. He’s scored a couple runs. His batting average was .250 and on-base percentage was .357. His isolated power was .125. That’s actually an above league-average offensive contribution, with a wRC+ of 105.
It’s tempting to be outraged that the Reds kept Mesoraco on their roster for six weeks to see him contribute only one hit per week. But that’s actually a higher hit-rate than Brennan Boesch (5 hits/8 weeks) or Kristopher Negron (7 hits/8 weeks) has provided. Skip Schumaker (11 hits/8 weeks) has barely offered more. At least Negron is contributing with his sparkling defense. Boesch and Schumaker have been well below-average in the field.
A big part of the Reds plan, apparently, was to keep Mesoraco on the roster as a pinch hitter and then use him as a DH in the eight AL-park games the Reds had in May. Because of the rain-out-caused double header in Chicago, Bryan Price sat Mesoraco out of one of three games against the White Sox.
However, it was this past week, with two games in KC and three in Cleveland, that was the crucial stretch for the Mesoraco-as-DH plan. Five games, maybe 20 plate appearances.
Hip impingement generally means a bone-spur is rubbing against another bone, likely damaging the hip’s soft labrum. Bone spurs do not improve with rest. They have to be shaved with arthroscopic surgery. That’s why I’ve always doubted the plan that with rest and treatment — effective management by the medical staff — Mesoraco could return to catching without surgery. But that’s exactly what Walt Jocketty indicated was the intention on April 29.
Despite last week being the long-awaited Designated Hitter period for Mesoraco,Ã‚Â the Reds chose it also as the time to test out Mesoraco’s ability to squat, first in Kansas City, then in Cleveland. Predictably, the squatting (more bone grinding on the labrum, more damage) aggravated the injury, making it too painful for Mesoraco to DH.
Mesoraco first tested the hip Tuesday in Kansas City.Ã‚Â “In Kansas City, it went OK,” Mesoraco said. “But afterward, it started feeling like it did in the beginning. Yesterday, I had a hard time getting through what I was supposed to do.
“It didn’t go very well.”Ã‚Â The improvement has been negligible.
“It’s very disappointing,” he said. “I expected to feel better than I have. We’ve been doing some stuff that has been helping and has been making me feel better. Then to go out there and not be able to get into a normal catching position that I’m used is definitely disappointing. To compound that, to feel worse after I try to do all that is not a good thing.” (John Fay)
Instead of 20 plate appearances last week, Mesoraco managed only six, none in Cleveland.Ã‚Â In the week that justified keeping Mesoraco on the active roster for more than a month, the Reds ultimately undermined their own plan by having Mesoraco overwork his hip right before those games. That strikes me as the opposite of effective management.
Wonder if we’ll ever find out why those tests couldn’t wait a week. Is it really possible that no one in the room — the general manager, the manager, the doctors, the trainers — said, “Maybe we should hold off stressing his hip until we aren’t counting on him to play all week.”?
One might suspect this move is the immediate precursor to announcing the young catcher will undergo season-ending surgery. And that might yet be the case. But yesterday, Bryan Price seemed to indicate that the club was still considering ways of getting Mesoraco’s bat in the lineup.
“We’re going to look at some different options, we’ve kind of opened up everything to look at with him, we’d certainly like to have his offensive influence on our lineup,” Price said before the game, before the move was announced. “It doesn’t look like it’ll be behind the plate anytime soon, so there’s our Catch-22 right there, is how do we utilize his offense on a National League team when he’s not behind the plate? We’re trying to figure that out.” (C. Trent Rosecrans)
Instead of heading right to surgery, Mesoraco’s DL stintÃ‚Â could mean a rehab assignment to AAA that includes him learning to play the OF.
The regular recovery period from hip impingement arthroscopy is 4-6 months. Estimates are at the 4 month end for professional athletes. There are variables, of course. One of them is the severity of the damage to the labrum (which is aggravated every time the catcher squats). So while the Reds will leave Mesoraco plenty of time to recover to be 100 percent by spring training, they do have a few months leeway.
What do we think about Mesoraco learning to play the outfield? Let’s assume for a second, that it won’t further jeopardize his health. And let’s further assume that Mesoraco can play passable outfield defense – remember, the Marlon Byrd Horror Show is the current baseline.
Short term (2015): Under the twin assumptions of do no more damage and minimum competency, Mesoraco would replace Marlon Byrd, I guess. Although that’s a hard decision to imagine from a crowd that seems determined to see Byrd receive every possible chance to play. Outside chance: The Reds have seen enough of Marlon Byrd to know he’s not going to help them, especially considering his shabby outfield defense. Remote chance: Instead of benching Byrd, the Reds are planning to trade Jay Bruce or Byrd.
Medium term (2016): Maybe the Reds plan is for Mesoraco to have the surgery right away and start working on playing left field after that. Perhaps the organization is considering the possibility that Jesse Winker may not be quite primed to start in 2016. Mesoraco could play left field until Winker is ready in that case.
Long term (2017-18): The argument for Mesoraco playing the outfield long-term is based on keeping him healthier and in the lineup. While the recurrence of the hip issue is unlikely in the time frame of his Reds contract, the catcher has had a few concussions related to the perils of catching.Ã‚Â But every game Mesoraco plays in the outfield is a game someone else has to catch – and bat. It is certainly preferable to have Mesoraco’s bat in the lineup compared to not. But the best world from an offensive standpoint by far would be to have him catching and have someone who can hit playing in the outfield.
It’s not yet clear what the Reds plans are for Mesoraco. As Price says, they’re trying to figure that out.
Regardless of how this goes, you have to feel bad for the young catcher from Pennsylvania. His high hopes of becoming an important leader and cornerstone of this team have been deferred for a season. He’s handled the situation with professionalism.