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Now a backup, Mesoraco has a lot to prove

Catcher: 'I feel confident that if my body can hold up, I will be productive'
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco understands that in the competitive world of Major League Baseball, time waits for no player, especially for three years. From 2015-17, injuries limited Mesoraco to 95 games and 57 starts behind the plate.

Last season, Tucker Barnhart emerged as the National League Gold Glove Award winner at catcher while having the best offensive season of his career. He also got a new four-year contract in September. Hence, Barnhart is now the primary catcher, while Mesoraco -- a 2014 All-Star -- enters camp as the backup.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco understands that in the competitive world of Major League Baseball, time waits for no player, especially for three years. From 2015-17, injuries limited Mesoraco to 95 games and 57 starts behind the plate.

Last season, Tucker Barnhart emerged as the National League Gold Glove Award winner at catcher while having the best offensive season of his career. He also got a new four-year contract in September. Hence, Barnhart is now the primary catcher, while Mesoraco -- a 2014 All-Star -- enters camp as the backup.

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"It doesn't make a difference. You have to go out there and produce," Mesoraco said of his status on Thursday. "If you don't produce, you don't play. … I'm not stupid enough to not realize, 'Hey, I haven't produced.' You really need to do that at some point to get yourself in the lineup."

Mesoraco, 29, hit 25 home runs with 80 RBIs in 2014. In the past three seasons, he's slashed .191/.292/.314 with six homers and 17 RBIs. In May of '16, he had season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. That July, he had surgery to repair the labrum in his right hip. In '15, there was an operation to repair the labrum in his left hip.

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Last season, after getting a late start because of the rehab from his surgeries, Mesoraco struggled at the plate. He got it going in June as he slugged four homers that month, but a left shoulder strain suffered in July put him back on the disabled list. On Aug. 14, vs. the Cubs, he fractured his left foot when hit by a Jose Quintana pitch, which ended his season with his batting average at .213 over 56 games.

"Once my shoulder [got hurt] in July, I never quite felt the same. I couldn't find it," Mesoraco said. "That's just the way it goes. You're expected to produce when you're out on the field and I wasn't able to do that towards the end of the year."

As Spring Training gets underway, Mesoraco feels good and healthy. After healing from his injuries, he had a normal offseason.

"I forgot what they were like," he said. "I could do what I wanted and was able to get normal work in as opposed to rehab and being on a limited number of reps."

Reds manager Bryan Price believes that Mesoraco can be valuable off the bench, adding offense late in a game. If something were to happen to Barnhart, Price would be comfortable using Mesoraco regularly.

"This is just a natural process," Price said. "This isn't condemning Devin. Devin hasn't done anything wrong other than the fact he's gotten hurt. I'm hoping that his best days are ahead of him. But at this point in time, Tucker has put himself in position and earned the opportunity to be the guy who gets the lion's share of playing time."

As Barnhart begins his new contract, Mesoraco's four-year deal is entering its final season, one in which he will earn $13 million. Is there more pressure to perform in a contract year when the playing time isn't plentiful?

"I'd certainly like to prove I am still a productive player, still somebody that can go out there and produce on the field. I don't know that I feel pressure," Mesoraco said. "I feel confident that if my body can hold up, I will be productive.

"The injuries are what they are. I don't feel like there's anything else I could have done to avoid them. It's just something that happened. I will take the opportunities whenever they come and present themselves."

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, Tucker Barnhart, Devin Mesoraco