CINCINNATI -- The Reds had the luxury of carrying three catchers for most of 2019, but they are now without all three that they started the season with at a pivotal point in the schedule.
A big shockwave hit the group Thursday when Curt Casali was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right knee sprain. Casali’s backup, Kyle Farmer, was also placed on the seven-day concussion list. Cincinnati has been without primary catcher Tucker Barnhart since he went on the IL June 28 because of a right oblique strain.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Some really, really bad luck there on the last road trip,” Barnhart said.
The new catching tandem is now Juan Graterol and Ryan Lavarnway. Graterol had his contract selected from Triple-A Louisville on Wednesday when closer Raisel Iglesias went on the paternity list and then started against the Cubs. Lavarnway was released Wednesday by the Yankees’ Triple-A club and was signed Thursday for the rest of the season by the Reds.
“That position is a real premium,” Reds manager David Bell said. “It’s an important position and a tough position. You have to have depth. We were lucky we had Graterol. But you can’t plan for three guys going down at the same time.”
Cincinnati went 2-4 on its road trip to Colorado and Chicago and came into the day trailing the Cubs by 7 1/2 games in the National League Central. The next seven games are against division rivals -- the Cardinals for four games and three at Milwaukee. The Reds plan on being buyers ahead of the July 31 Trade Deadline, but it's unlikely they would swing a trade to acquire another catcher as a stopgap since Barnhart could be a couple of weeks away.
“Part of what you do being in this game -- or any walk of life -- it’s kind of how you respond to things and how you react,” Bell said. “What choice do you make? You can start making excuses or see it as a challenge and a way to get better, to get through it. It’s not really a choice for me. You keep going, and if you get through these times, you’re in really good shape.”
Casali is expected to be in a knee brace for at least two weeks, and Bell estimated he could be out up to a month. If there is good news for Reds catchers, Barnhart’s timetable for a return has sped up. He was supposed to miss at least six weeks from when he was hurt swinging a bat, but he could now return sooner.
“I made a lot of progress during the All-Star break and the last week while the team was on the road. I feel really good,” Barnhart said. “I’ve hit in the cage, off a tee, hit front toss, long toss, so we’re kind of pushing it a little bit, but still being careful. I’m making really good progress.”
Farmer took a pair of foul balls off his mask on Tuesday vs. the Cubs, with the second one leaving him dazed. He was able to remain in the game, however.
“I’m feeling a lot better today. I think yesterday, I was really out of it,” Farmer said.
Farmer, a utility player who didn't catch this season until Barnhart went down, unpacked his bag Thursday and discovered one of the face bars on his catcher’s mask was bent by the foul ball. Somehow, he didn’t have to leave the game.
“I had the adrenaline rush. It can get you through a lot,” he said.
The Yankees agreed to release Lavarnway so he could pursue a Major League opportunity. He slashed .213/.333/.315 across 129 plate appearances with Scranton-Wilkes Barre, but he hasn’t played in the Majors since he appeared in six games as a September callup last season with the Pirates. Lavarnway has also played for the Red Sox, Braves, Orioles and A’s and is a .208 career hitter.
“I’ve definitely taken a non-linear career path. I’ve been through maybe 100 ups and downs. If anything would prepare me for an unusual circumstance, I think I’m ready,” Lavarnway said. “I think the Yankees were trying to do right by me. There wasn’t a ton of at-bats to go around. They are super deep at catcher -- they are one of the rare teams that are -- so I appreciate them trying to do right by me and allow me to seek out a better opportunity to play.”