Iannetta still trying to find formula for success
Catcher has struggled since being recalled from Triple-A
DENVER -- Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta has been labeled a thinker, a deliberator. That's fine for a judge or a professor, but not so much so in a sport with a mantra best articulated by Yogi Berra: "How can you hit and think at the same time?"
Iannetta was signed to a three-year, $8.35 million contract this winter because the Rockies believe he can hit. He was sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs earlier this season because, as manager Jim Tracy put it, there was too much "uncertainty in his decision-making process." In other words, he was thinking, not hitting.
Now Iannetta, who returned to the big club on May 25 after hitting .349 in 17 Minor League games, says the reputation is overblown.
"I think I've always been relaxed," Iannetta said. "A lot more has been made of thinking too much and pressing. Last year, early on, I pressed, but I learned that last year. Before I get sent down, I was confident, I was calm, I was relaxed.
"I know a lot of people said it didn't look that way. I was a little surprised when they told me that. I felt relaxed. I felt calm."
Iannetta hasn't had many chances to prove his version of the evaluation. Sunday's game against the Blue Jays marked his sixth time in the lineup in 19 games since his recall. He is 4-for-17 with three walks.
But in his last start, when he went 1-for-3 with a walk in a loss to the Astros, he showed the approach that helped him post a .361 career on-base percentage, even though his average was .242, going into this season.
These days, Iannetta is using a heavier bat, but he insists his heart is light. He's not carrying a negative label, either.
"It's hard to explain," Iannetta said. "You want to say you've learned not to care anymore, but obviously you still love to play. You still care a ton. But when you're in the moment, you don't make too big a deal of it. You learn to let go and go play."
The way to play is to treat playing as no big deal, but Iannetta rebounding is a huge issue for the Rockies. Regular catcher Miguel Olivo, whose .318 average, eight home runs and 24 RBIs should earn him All-Star consideration, played in 45 of the first 62 games. Tracy does not want to wear out one catcher.
Right now, however, the difference in performance is difficult to ignore. Iannetta carried a .167 batting average, two home runs and three RBIs into Sunday. Also, the Rockies are 25-20 with a 3.38 ERA with Olivo, who has caught half of 30 would-be basestealers. With Iannetta, Rockies pitchers are 3-10 with a 4.55 ERA, and he has caught 2-of-16 stealers.
One way Iannetta could receive at-bats is in road games. Olivo has hit .178 in 22 road games. Iannetta is .091 on the road, but that is just in seven games.
Tracy said Iannetta is making progress in what he considers is a more important area than hitting -- reading the approaches of opposing hitters, the effectiveness of his pitcher and calling the game accordingly.
"I'm seeing a lot more discussion take place that I didn't see earlier on," Tracy said. "I give him kudos and high marks as to the passion and the thought process and work ethic and catching mechanics."
Tracy also alluded to the possibility of experimenting with Iannetta at other positions should he turn hot. In his career, however, Iannetta has played one game at third, in 2008 when then-manager Clint Hurdle had to scramble because of injuries.
"If Chris Iannetta starts bashing all over the place, he may force me to get very creative, and I won't be the least bit shy."
For now, Iannetta isn't worried about forcing anyone's hand. That involves too much thinking.
"Playing the way I've been playing once every few days, the results are either going to come or they're not," Iannetta said. "It's nothing I can force. I'm trying to do whatever I can to have good at-bats and help."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.