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Mesoraco contributing after long road back

MLB.com @m_sheldon

CINCINNATI -- Three seasons removed from his 2014 All-Star year and 25 home runs for the Reds, catcher Devin Mesoraco has been wanting and hoping to provide meaningful moments again for his team. In 2015-16, three surgeries -- one to each hip and another to his left shoulder -- made that virtually impossible.

The Reds got a glimpse of how well Mesoraco can still turn on a pitch as he smoked a 99-mph fastball from Braves reliever Jose Ramirez in the 10th inning on Friday night. When it landed in the first row of seats, Cincinnati had a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Braves.

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CINCINNATI -- Three seasons removed from his 2014 All-Star year and 25 home runs for the Reds, catcher Devin Mesoraco has been wanting and hoping to provide meaningful moments again for his team. In 2015-16, three surgeries -- one to each hip and another to his left shoulder -- made that virtually impossible.

The Reds got a glimpse of how well Mesoraco can still turn on a pitch as he smoked a 99-mph fastball from Braves reliever Jose Ramirez in the 10th inning on Friday night. When it landed in the first row of seats, Cincinnati had a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Braves.

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"It's just so hard when you come back from that many problems and surgeries. You have a couple years off and your timing and everything, it's tough," Reds shortstop Zack Cozart said. "You can just see him, on a daily basis he's starting to get it back. [Ramirez] can throw up to 100 mph and Devin got the big hit. We always used to say, 'You can't really throw a fastball by him,' and that's the old Devin right there. I think he's getting there for sure."

When Reds manager Bryan Price pulled a double switch in the top of the 10th that took Mesoraco off the bench and put him behind the plate, he knew that would mean the catcher would be leading off the bottom of the inning. Normally, he'd want a faster guy like Arismendy Alcantara to start things off.

"I don't know why, but I had a feeling about Devin. And it certainly worked out," said Price, who also had Mesoraco on deck to bat in the pitcher's spot during a ninth-inning rally.

Video: ATL@CIN: Mesoraco launches his first walk-off homer

Had it not been for some extra work before the game, it might not have come to be.

During batting practice on the field, hitting coach Don Long noticed Mesoraco's hands weren't in a good position to hit, and they made an adjustment.

"I wasn't feeling good. I wasn't hitting the ball hard, or having good at-bats," Mesoraco said. "My bat wasn't getting through the zone the way I thought it should be. We kind of identified that and took some extra swings out on the field today. It certainly paid off."

In 22 games, Mesoraco is batting .246/.358/.439 with three home runs and four RBIs. After getting extra time to get into playing shape during Spring Training, he started the season on the disabled list and wasn't activated until April 27 -- exactly one year from the last game he played in 2016 before suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

"Bless his heart, because it's really nice to have him back," Price said. "He's not only an excellent player, but he's a great teammate. And you can never get too many of those guys. You have to be able to perform, but when you've got guys there that care about each other, it makes a difference."

Health has not been a concern in Mesoraco's mind this season as he's rebounded well from the rigors of catching -- save for a hamstring strain that kept him out for a few games last month. He's fine with splitting time with Tucker Barnhart.

"Honestly, I think if I were to play like I did in '14, every day, I'm not sure I could be able to make it 100 percent through the year," Mesoraco said. "I think my biggest goal is to continue to be out there, be active and be available. Tucker certainly proved he deserves to play. This is a very good situation. I think we complement each other well."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Devin Mesoraco