BOSTON â€” Thereâ€™s bringing a player up to speed after heâ€™s been out for a lengthy stretch due to injury. Then thereâ€™s the term that Angels manager Mike Scioscia used in describing the heightened state of urgency Chris Iannetta finds himself in after missing 2 1/2 months with a broken bone in his right hand.
â€śYou can study and simulate stuff all you want, but when you get behind the plate, youâ€™re like that jockey on a saddle,â€ť Scioscia explained prior to Tuesdayâ€™s Red Sox-Angels game at Fenway Park. â€śThatâ€™s the feeling you need and thatâ€™s where Chris needs the time in order to come together.â€ť
What made the first significant injury of Iannettaâ€™s pro career particularly tough to swallow was the timing of when the St. Raphael Academy alumnus was struck by a pitch. It was May 2, a night that saw Iannetta behind the plate for Jered Weaverâ€™s no-hitter against Minnesota.
With spring training and the seasonâ€™s first month under his belt, the trappings of a comfort level between Iannetta and the Angels pitchers was progressing to the point that all parties were starting to get comfortable. For someone who joined a new organization following six seasons in Colorado, Iannetta understood the importance in developing a quick rapport with the organizationâ€™s arms.
Just as Iannetta and the pitchers seemed to be getting on the same page, the Angels lost their No. 1 catcher. Iannetta appeared in four games following the aforementioned HBP before landing on the disabled list, going hitless in seven at-bats. The road to recovery officially commenced on May 11, the same day the 29-year-old underwent a surgical procedure.
â€śAt the end of that third game, I was kind of back to where I was right after I had gotten hit,â€ť said Iannetta. â€śI tried to play through it, but at that point there was nothing I could do. I wasnâ€™t having a problem defensively but offensively I was having trouble getting the bat through the zone.â€ť
As a catcher who spent his every single one of his 13 big-league seasons with the Dodgers, Scioscia understands the finer points of whatâ€™s required by those men who make a living crouching behind home plate.
â€śThat pitcher-catcher relationship needs to keep rolling and it was halted when Chris got hurt,â€ť Scioscia explained. â€śItâ€™s an aspect where weâ€™re working hard to get him up to speed.â€ť
Despite the setback, Iannetta noted there existed a silver lining.
â€śItâ€™s unfortunate that it happened, but Iâ€™m fortunate that it didnâ€™t happen in July or August because I would have been done for the year,â€ť he said. â€śThereâ€™s never a good time for something like that to happen, but at least it gave me an opportunity to come back and play down the stretch.â€ť
For someone who says the most serious injury heâ€™s been forced to rehab from is a hamstring strain, Iannetta quickly learned that coming back from a broken hand would prove to be a completely different animal.
â€śThere were days I would rehab early in the afternoon or during the middle of the game,â€ť he explained. â€śI was able to get through it, though.â€ť
On the first day Iannetta reacquainted himself with his Angels teammates, he caught newly acquired pitcher Zack Greinke. Tuesday marked Iannettaâ€™s 18th game since coming off the disabled list as the University of North Carolina product carried a slash line of .204/.326/.428 into the batterâ€™s box against Red Sox starter Aaron Cook, whom Iannetta caught in Colorado (In Tuesday's contest, Iannetta went 1-for-4 with a RBI single as the Angels downed Boston).
â€śEvery baseball player is not 100 percent at this time of year, but obviously Iâ€™m feeling good enough to be out there and play. Thatâ€™s all that matters,â€ť Iannetta remarked when asked about his health.
Despite hitting just .214 in 15 games this month, Iannetta has been catching at a rate Scioscia and the Angels probably envisioned at the start of the season. Heâ€™s seen action in six consecutive games on two separate occasions as the skipper remains committed to the player who was acquired from the Rockies last November.
â€śHe battled some aches and pains early on during spring training, but once he got into games, he got acclimated with our pitching staff,â€ť Scioscia noted.
One way to measure Iannettaâ€™s handling of the pitching staff is catcherâ€™s ERA, which stood at 4.55 entering Tuesday. Iannetta has not appeared in enough games to qualify officially, though his figure is better than the 4.64 reading Bostonâ€™s Jarrod Saltalamacchia presently owns.
Iannetta, who can become a free agent should his $5 million option for next season not get exercised, made his first-ever start against Boston on Tuesday, hitting ninth in Sciosciaâ€™s lineup. For someone who vividly recalls the one at-bat he has against the team he grew up rooting for â€“ June 24, 2010 against Jonathan Papelbon â€“ Iannetta says heâ€™s eager to make up for lost time after not facing the Sox during the 2007 World Series and five-of-six regular season contests.
â€śItâ€™s fun being back home,â€ť said Iannetta with a slight smile.