Reds counting on Hernandez's clutch bat
Veteran catcher opens camp healthy, eager to contribute
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Even though they had an exceptional defensive catcher in Ryan Hanigan, the budget-conscious Reds still allocated $3 million to bring back veteran Ramon Hernandez in November.Defense played secondary into the equation. Hernandez's bat had everything to do with the re-signing. "You've got to admit, Ramon has historically been one of the best clutch RBI guys for the minimum amount of home runs the guy has hit," Reds manager Dusty Baker said on Sunday. For a club that often had anemic run production last season, Hernandez never had trouble stepping up when it counted. His .328 (21-for-64) average with runners in scoring position was second to Joey Votto (.336) on the team. It was also 70 points higher than his .258 average overall. Hernandez's on-base percentage with runners in scoring position was .428 compared to .336 overall. Hernandez is a career .262 hitter but bats .287 with a .357 OBP when runners are in scoring position. Last season, Hanigan batted .149 (7-for-47) with a .268 OBP with runners in scoring position while notching only 11 RBIs. He was a .263 hitter with a .361 OBP overall. However, he did spend a lot of time batting eighth ahead of the pitcher. "We have to get [Hanigan] in that mode of improvement that if you want to play more, you have to drive in some more runs," Baker said. That doesn't mean the 29-year-old Hanigan won't be playing much this season. The condition of the 33-year-old Hernandez's knees will likely dictate playing time as the season wears on. Hernandez missed 57 games from July to September after having left knee surgery. "I trained a lot and prepared a lot," said Hernandez, who hit five home runs with 37 RBIs in 2009 while earning $8 million. "It's coming pretty good. I feel great. Hopefully, I will stay healthy all year and do what I'm supposed to do." After last season, the Reds declined Hernandez's $8.5 million club option for 2010 but re-signed him at the lower price. "We saw what we had and what we had wasn't 100 percent of what we know is in there," Baker said. "He can handle the bat." After three years in Baltimore, where Hernandez was admittedly unhappy and earned a less than stellar reputation, it was a 180-degree experience during his first year with Cincinnati. Excited about returning, he had no hard feelings about taking the significant pay cut. "It's fine. I missed half a season," Hernandez said. "When you miss half a season, there's nothing you can do. You battle through it, get what you can and try to come back to a team that you like. I like this team. I like my teammates. There are great people around. When you're around great people, good things happen." With Hanigan as a stronger defensive catcher, Baker has the luxury of resting Hernandez to preserve his legs and keep him healthy for the season. Just how and when that will happen is up in the air. "It depends on how he hangs, how he does," Baker said. "It's hard to come up with that right away to determine." If Hernandez ends up splitting some of his time with Hanigan, it is fine by him. "That's up to them. Whatever they decide, it's good for the team," Hernandez said. "I will try to do my best. Hanigan is a great player, a great catcher. If they do that, I will be happy to. It's in their hands. I know I will share my job with him. All we're here for is to go to the World Series. It's why we're competing and to make our team better. Whatever it takes, whatever they need me for."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.