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Barnhart to make first big league start Thursday

CINCINNATI -- Reds rookie catcher Tucker Barnhart is about to find out whether it is tougher to make his first big league game or to wrangle enough tickets for nearby family and friends to watch him catch in his first big league start.

Barnhart, who hails from Brownsburg, Ind., near Indianapolis, is expected to start behind the plate on Thursday with Homer Bailey pitching against the Cardinals.

"I think getting enough tickets," Barnhart replied on Wednesday. "I have a lot of people calling me, asking if they can come down. I'll have to ask some guys if they can share their tickets."

The 23-year-old Barnhart, who is ranked No. 12 by among 2014 Reds prospects, spent all of 2013 at Double-A Pensacola and was supposed to begin this season at Triple-A Louisville. The Reds' plans changed once regular catcher Devin Mesoraco went on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. Barnhart is the backup for Brayan Pena while Mesoraco is out.

Barnhart learned he was going north with the club while the Reds were in Pensacola for an exhibition game that was ultimately rained out. He batted .278 in Spring Training, but went 5-for-12 over his final six games.

"Going through Opening Day, just all the festivities and everything, was definitely a dream come true," Barnhart said. "But getting to go out there and actually going out on the field is going to be awesome."

Barnhart is familiar with most of the Reds' pitching staff after being at big league camp during the past three Spring Trainings. He was a 2011 Minor League Gold Glove winner for his defensive skills.

"We know he can receive and throw, block. He calls a good game," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Our pitchers enjoy throwing to him. He has something to learn at this level because there's so much more at his disposal as far as advance reports and video and things that will allow him to be more prepared to catch our pitching staff. I think he's ready to do it defensively.

"We would've loved to allow him to get some seasoning at Triple-A, get used to catching more veteran, experienced pitchers and seeing what it's like to hit off those same types of pitchers in Triple-A. That being said, there's no reluctance whatsoever to have him on our team working with our pitching staff. I think he'll do a phenomenal job and give us great support until we get Devin back."

Mesoraco is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment of three games at Pensacola on Thursday and could be activated as early as Monday.

Barnhart realized he would have butterflies entering the game Thursday, but was hoping he could relax and enjoy the moment. His parents, girlfriend and several friends are expected to be at Great American Ball Park.

"I know it's going to be a nerve-wracking experience, but I feel like once I get the first inning out of the way and the first at-bat out of the way, it's going to be just another game," Barnhart said.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
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