It was two weeks ago when I first wrote about Devin Mesoraco’s tragic hip injury. Here’s the abridged version that leaves out the ugly medical details:

(1) Hip impingements are related to bone growth and therefore generally not responsive to non-surgical treatments or management, so surgery is the likely course of action.

(2) If it’s only the act of squatting that causes Mesoraco pain, the Reds can use him as a hitter. That means a pinch hitting role until the inter-league games in AL cities begin. Then the Reds should deploy him as a designated hitter. Eight of their ten games in AL parks take place in the next 17 days. The other two are in mid-June.

(3) Mesoraco could undergo surgery later in the season and still have plenty of time to fully recover for spring training next February. Mesoraco has recently been saying rehab time is four months, and that’s probably optimistic. But the outer bound is likely 6 months. So surgery in July would give him a comfortable margin.

(4) With surgery, Mesoraco’s chances of returning to pain-free health are good.

Now, two weeks later, it appears that speculation has proven accurate. The Reds fired off a prayer, hoping with a couple weeks of rest Mesoraco’s pain might calm down and he could return to catching. But with Mesoraco’s admission this week that surgery was looking likely, the Hail Mary fell incomplete. The young catcher hasn’t even been able to test his hip by catching a simulated game. And as the Reds head to Chicago to face the White Sox this weekend, it appears that Mesoraco will be used as a designated hitter.

Questioning how the team handles injuries to its players has become as much of a signifier for a Cincinnati Reds fan as participating in the Opening Day parade. From both a medical and roster standpoint, the organization’s record has been the subject of withering criticism. Outrage reached peak fury with the bungling of Joey Votto’s knee injury in the summer of 2012. The team’s ill-advised deference to Votto’s own word about how he was feeling proved costly. The impact was felt not just in 2012, but also 2013 and 2014. Votto now – finally – appears clear from the fallout.

Another consequence of that incident and others like it has been the loss of credibility for the organization. Skepticism has become a knee-jerk reaction to any medical or roster decision about a player. It’s hard to argue that reaction is unjustified.

As you might expect, plenty of carping has taken place with the way the team has handled Devin Mesoraco’s hip injury. But much of that second-guessing is misplaced.

The most common criticism has been that the Reds should have put Mesoraco on the DL right away. The reasoning goes that the team could have promoted a player from AAA and not been shorthanded on the bench. Mesoraco has hardly pinch hit at all since he was diagnosed.

But who would be better? There is no Kris Bryant or even Kris Negron ready to make the trip from Louisville to the Great American Ball Park. For that player to have had a larger impact than Mesoraco, he not only would have to be a better hitter, but he would have had to play in the field. The reality is that anyone who was called up would have been primarily used as a pinch hitter. And none of the candidates have the major league track record of Devin Mesoraco. Mesoraco’s lack of at bats — six plate appearances in the past four weeks — has been due mainly to the absence of opportunities to pinch hit, especially the last couple weeks.

John Fay suggested the theory that if the Reds had put Mesoraco on the DL right away, he could be getting regular at bats at the minor league level, preparing him to DH this weekend in Chicago. But as Fay points out, that would have taken amazing foresight and again, it would have actually weakened Bryan Price’s bench. And following that course would have meant foregoing the chance – albeit a small one – that Mesoraco could get back behind the plate after a short rest.

Those calling for Mesoraco to return to playing behind the plate don’t appreciate that hip impingement isn’t solely a pain tolerance question. Every time Mesoraco squats and the bones rub against each other, he could be doing greater damage to his cartilage. That would lengthen his recovery time and jeopardize his return to full health. The Reds were right not to have him try catching. This is a case where the pain is saying something important.

One loose thread in this process was the bizarre radio interview on April 29 when Walt Jocketty said he expected Mesoraco to be back catching in a week or ten days, certainly within two weeks. It’s really hard to square that statement in light of what we know now about the lack of progress of the catcher’s condition. Was someone really giving the Reds general manager reason to believe Mesoraco was about to return? The Reds medical and health staff did seem to be telling people they believed they could manage Mesoraco’s condition. But that reported confidence of the Reds medical staff seems to have been misplaced.

Other than the miscommunication or misunderstanding that led to Jocketty’s perplexing answer, it does appear that in keeping Mesoraco on the active roster and in delaying the surgery, the Reds are getting it right. Mesoraco gets his chance to contribute with 50-60 plate appearances in May and June. Then he’ll have corrective arthroscopic surgery and begin the process of getting ready for 2016.

[Tom Diesman is on vacation the next two weeks. His column will return on May 21.]

51 Responses

  1. gaffer

    I think the plan all along has been to have him DH this month and then get surgery, hence no value to DL.

  2. msanmoore

    Well said again, Steve. We just don’t have a lot of options at AAA right now and forcing a position player from AA probably ends up backfiring.

  3. mtkal

    You say that in Chicago against the White Sox Mes will be used as a PINCH hitter? Why not DH? Or is that what you meant?

    • Steve Mancuso

      Yes, I meant designated hitter. Good catch. Fixed. Thanks.

  4. George Mirones

    Oh great “YODA” you have done us fans a real service. IS the “Jocketty” he will catch statement a continuation of the “don’t let the opposition know” concept.

  5. sultanofswaff

    The timeline on the recovery from surgery is 4-6 months. My preference would’ve been to get him into the operating room right away and take a gamble that he would be ready by mid September in the event we have a chance at the playoffs. 50 at-bats in May will have little influence on the Red’s season, but 50 in September might.

    • jdx19

      Games count the same in the standings whether they happened in May or September.

      • HerpyDerp

        50 at-bats in May vs 50 at-bats + catching in September is a big difference.

      • jdx19

        Sure. But that’s not what he said.

    • earmbrister

      With a 4 – 6 month recovery time, he would not be contributing in any meaningful way in September. Even if he was put on the DL on April Fool’s day, and had surgery the next day, he isn’t going to be adding value this year. Assuming a very good recovery, when is he going to develop any strength or find any hitting stroke?

      The wishful thinking of spring becomes the “why risk further injury” of September.

  6. Eric the Red

    For me, it comes down to this question: would Mesoraco add more offensive value as a PH and DH in the next few weeks if he had been DL’d and then gotten regular at bats at Louisville, or with the way things have been handled? Considering how badly he started the season, it probably would have made sense to get him on track with some regular ABs and then bring him up to DH.

    Overall, the idea of delaying his surgery and keeping him around through the AL games makes sense. But it’s tough to expect him to get started offensively by just getting PH at bats. (Of course, this makes sense only because there’s absolutely nobody worth calling up for PHing and DHing. Which is a shame, and doesn’t speak too well to our farm system/collection of vets who can hit a ball.)

  7. jessecuster44

    Has Mez even gotten a hit since he stopped catching? I’d take a healthy AA player over a hurt Mez. This is ridiculous. It’s yet another case of the Reds crossing their fingers and “hoping” that things work out.

    Mez should have been DLed, and should have had surgery by now.

    To replace Mez on the roster, maybe call up DeJesus, or Dan Johnson, or maybe another arm for the bullpen.

    I don’t think the Reds got it right. I’m concerned that by playing as A DH, Mez will hurt himself even further – even though the med staff says he will be OK.

    The Reds have proven beyond all shadow of a doubt that they cannot compete with less than a 25 man roster. So why do they keep doing it?

    • Steve Mancuso

      So far, they haven’t had an extra-inning game or in-game injury situation that strained the bench. Since the Reds don’t platoon over the course of a game, theon only time they tap into the bench is when they pinch hit for the pitcher. As long as Mesoraco can pinch hit, he’ll help more than anyone else would in a pinch hitting role.

      In his seven PH at bats, he’s walked three times and scored two runs. That’s actually a substantial contribution for that number of PA.

      Impingement is caused by the two bones moving together in a certain way, like from squatting and putting all your weight on one hip. It’s not likely that Mesoraco is causing further damage by activity short of that, especially if he isn’t feeling pain.

      The Reds released Dan Johnson on April 25. He’s in the Cardinals organization now.

    • Steve Mancuso

      >The Reds have proven beyond all shadow of a doubt that they cannot compete with less than a 25 man roster.

      I don’t understand this claim. The Reds have a winning record.

      • jessecuster44

        Steve, Good points. I certainly didn’t know about Dan Johnson, and Mez’ OBP is impressive.

        My claim about competing with a less-than-full roster is based on the 2+ seasons where we’ve seen the Reds play many games with one or two roster spots occupied by players who are “day to day,” when they should have been DLed. And then invariably, there’s some bungling with the 40 man roster, where the Reds release a young player that they could have held onto.

        Maybe I should have rephrased my “compete” to “compete for a championship?”
        Other teams (St. Louis) do not handle injuries the way the Reds do, and seem to have much greater success.

        Given all the Reds injuries, I worry that any injury can and will be aggravated unless it’s given the appropriate time to heal. Perhaps that’s irrational thinking.

      • Steve Mancuso

        I agree with you in general. The Reds have been awful the past couple years in managing injuries and the decision whether to DL a player. It caused many, many instances of the manager in a short-handed situation. They dither and dither.

        I just disagree that this has been the case in terms of Mesoraco. The Reds starters are perceived as so much better than the bench players, Price never does match-up pinch hitting. The vast majority of games go by when the only player who comes off the bench is one who pinch hits for the pitcher. They may use the occasional double switch. So they just don’t put many demands on the bench. Keeping Mesoraco around to pinch hit, even if he can’t play the field, isn’t pressuring the bench much.

        Of course, that could change any given night, if they get into a long extra-innings game and have to hit for the pitcher a few times.

    • Grant Freking

      In 7 plate appearances since the Reds began sitting him, Mes has no hits, one strikeouts two runs scored, and three walks.

      If squatting is the only thing Mes can’t do, there’s no harm in having him hit. If you’ve been watching Mes at the plate since the injury, he’s delivering the same quality at-bats. If he hadn’t been doing that, the Reds would’ve pulled the plug because then there would be no point to having him on the roster.

      On your suggestions…to this point De Jesus is a career minor-leaguer, who has not appeared in an MLB game since 2012. De Jesus has a .205 batting average and .500 OPS in 80 MLB plate appearances. Dan Johnson is in the Cardinals system now.

    • ManuelT

      They’re tempting fate by not putting him on DL and proceeding with surgery. It’s very cocky to categorically say he’ll be ready by this timeframe when he hasn’t even undergone the surgery. Too many what ifs. What if there are complications in or from surgery? What if his rehab take an unforeseen amount of time? It’s very stupid to tempt fate this way. If he needs surgery, do it now- the faster the surgery happens, the faster he can get back to normal. BUT, we’re all used to the Reds playing games with the 25 man roster.

      • lwblogger2

        Some good points here and stated reasonably. I use a lot more words to essentially get the same point across below.

  8. seat101

    I ask forgiveness before the fact here. I would like to ask an off topic question.

    I have read that wins in a season have little effect on that year’s paid attendance, yet I remember an article detailing how Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Cincinnati were exceptions to that rule. This was three years ago or so and I cannot find the article now. Can anyone help?

  9. WVRedlegs

    I don’t quibble about the Reds medical staff. It is what it is. The biggest horror in this sad state of affairs is the front office. Where is this team’s depth??
    Doug Gray had a great column earlier this week at his redsminorleagues website re-ranking the Reds depth chart. It certainly was eye opening. AAA only has 3 of the Reds top 25 prospects, SP Iglesias (#10), SP Moscot (#15), and OF YorRod (#5). At AA it is just slightly better with 5 top 25 prospects. AA has SP Stephenson (#1), SP D. Wright (#25), 3B SM Breen (#18), OF Winker (#2), and OF Waldrop (#13). Each of the position players is off to a rough start offensively.

    This is NOT the case at A+ Daytona. Nine of the top-25 prospects on their roster. They have 4 of the Reds top-10 prospects in their starting rotation. Amazing. Travieso (#4), Romano (#6), Garrett (#7), and Howard (#9). The position players are Wallach (C), Ervin (OF), Blandino (INF), Sparks (INF), and Daal (INF). That could bring a league championship to Daytona in their first year with the Reds.

    This is Jocketty’s 8th year as GM and the farm system at the upper levels still look like pre-Jocketty days. Just another indictment on Jocketty and his very poor front office. I said just before the season in our predictions that Jocketty and his front office are a -6 WAR. I may have to adjust that to a -8. The roster mismanagement, the 40-man roster misques that let two pitchers get claimed off waivers by the Dodgers, and the lousy off-season(s) don’t peg the needle on the confidence meter for this Reds front office.

    • George Mirones

      I believe that the Dodgers released both after only 5 days.
      The very slow start in AA by Winkler and Waldrop compared to outstanding “A” ball and A+ records is an indication the they are probably 2 years away. At this point there really are not MLB ready position ready prospects. The guys who are getting the hype in MLB are 21 or 22 years old and just really tore it up in the minors. Remember Bruce was on his way to the Hall of Fame when he first came up.

      • jessecuster44

        It was argued on this site by many, that Winker would be ready by July, and supplant Byrd. Therefore, no need to acquire a “better” OF.

        Now it looks like Byrd may be in LF for the season, and his AB clause will kick in. Hmm.

      • jdx19

        Are you talking about random posters or the editors writing columns? I can’t recall hearing people claiming Winker was going to be MLB read mid-way through this season.

      • jessecuster44

        Not random posters, but regulars in response to the Byrd trade.

      • George Mirones

        There were many posters who were giddy about the advent of the Winkler era. The editors did not encourage that thought process.

    • jessecuster44

      It doesn’t matter that the Dodgers released them. What matters is that poor management allowed the Dodgers to pick them up. The same thing happened last year.

      Let me ask you – if the talent in the Reds minor league system is not that great, why, WHY would you allow any talent with upside to be snapped up by another team? That’s attrition of resources that could be avoided by smarter planning.

      • George Mirones

        Jesse;
        Smarter planning, you do realize (Reds Leadership) who we are discussing.

    • Andy Worth

      Well said. How about signing Devin to a big extension and less than a month into the season his hips are shot and need surgery. Do they do any due diligence? Signing Homer to a stupid deal (overpaid by a ton) pitches OK shut down for surgery.Tommy John and…..Kremcheck is doing it. Homer get another surgeon…

    • Jeremy Conley

      I 100% agree. I couldn’t believe that Price didn’t get ejected when Votto did last night. That was sad. Votto didn’t do anything wrong, the ump kicked out Price’s best player in the 3rd inning, and Price didn’t do anything.

    • George Mirones

      Maddon along with the comment by Lester, just bought 10 victories for the season.
      I know BIG Lou would go nuts some times but his players knew the manager wanted them to succeed no matter what.
      With that young line up and folks waiting at AAA and AA. Great job!!

      • lwblogger2

        I don’t know if you can quantify it that way but I do agree with the idea that something like that can go a long way in helping players want to put it all on the line for their manager. If you know he’s got your back, you’re gonna play hard for him.

  10. Jeremy Conley

    Here’s what I don’t understand. Six months before February is August, so say we want him to have the surgery on Aug. 1. If you send Mes down to AAA for rehab, why not put him in some games at LF. If he can run down flyballs, and he can hit RH pitching better than Byrd, why not give it a go for a few games between now and August.

    If the justification for not DLing him so far is that there’s no one in AAA that would be better for the bench, why does that change after these interleague games? Isn’t that still going to be the case all season? So why rush him into surgery if he doesn’t need it right away? If getting 10 games out of him at DH is good, then wouldn’t getting 20 games out of him be better?

    I’m not suggesting that he become our starting LF today. But it certainly seems possible that over the course of all of May, June, and July, you could find 10 starts for him in the outfield if he’s given some time in the minors to practice. That’s 10 more starts than they’re going to get now, and what’s the harm?

    • John Walsh

      It’s really astounding. Especially since they’re going to need him to learn to play the outfield long-term – both to get his bat in the lineup and if there’s any hangover from the hip. Instead, the organization has rejected the idea out of hand.

      Unless, of course, he can’t run that well. In which case, why is he pinch-hitting and potentially running bases at all.

  11. lwblogger2

    Good article here by Steve… What he says about continued squatting and if it is still causing pain, is true. It isn’t so much the pain but what the pain is telling you. I had/have “anterior supra-patellar fat-pad impingement syndrome” and it was diagnosed late. It pretty much ended any chance of me continuing to play ball. I couldn’t even handle playing fairly regularly in an over 30 recreational league and am looking at knee replacements as soon as I’m old enough. Mes isn’t going to want to push it. Due to the nature of the injury, if it hurts, he needs to not do it. If hitting and running isn’t bothering him, then go for it.

    That being said, what I wonder is if the Reds are taking a risk by leaving him play and not going the surgery route now? My concerns are two-fold:

    1 – The Reds are relying on Mes to tell them when/if it hurts. Players are notoriously lousy at this. I was diagnosed late partly due to my own stubbornness. It’s doubtful he’s doing any more damage but why risk it when we’re talking about millions of dollars of investment?

    2 – In the unlikely event that the surgery works but that for one reason or another, the impingement is aggravated again with catching duties (there isn’t much data on how professional catchers respond), wouldn’t it be better to have the surgery sooner and therefore know sooner? That way, if a position change is in order, Mes can get to work on it in the off-season, even before spring training.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Your second point is an interesting argument. But it’s doubtful that a time horizon of a couple months will tell the tale about whether the impingement will recur. The bone spurs usually take years to develop. Can’t see that a couple months would matter much.

      Regarding Mesoraco’s description of his own pain, the one reason I trust him more is that he’s the one who came to the team and said his hip was hurting when he was catching. I agree that it’s certainly possible he’s fibbing. But he has to know by now that if it worsens, it makes his long-term outlook bleaker.

      • lwblogger2

        I admit that I am reaching a little but the questions need to at least be considered. I tend towards conservatism in these sorts of things.

        As far as the injury itself, I’m not so worried about the bone spurs themselves but more about rather or not the cartridge has been damaged. If they caught it soon enough, then the damage should be very minimal. In which case it is very likely that Mes can catch again for years without trouble. I think that’s the best outcome for the team and for Mes.

  12. Art Wayne Austin

    I would put Mes in left when facing southpaws, move Byrd to right and only play Bruce against right-hand pitchers. It would hurt us defensively but when you need offense you often sacrifice.

  13. Art Wayne Austin

    New stats for the Rally leaders: Hamilton 10, Votto 7, DaDude 7, Byrd 9, Frazier 7, Cozart 7, Bruce 8, & Mes 1. Winning rally Heroes: Bruce, Byrd, & Phillips.

    • DavidTurner49

      Have other catchers resumed careers behind the plate after having the procedure Mes will undergo? Is there a prognosis that he can catch again without recurrence? Unless the answer to both questions is “yes,” Reds would do well to try him in LF.

      • lwblogger2

        There isn’t much history with catchers that I personally know of. My understanding of the injury though is that if it was caught fairly early and there isn’t much damage to the cartilage, the should be fine to resume catching. Of course there’s always a risk that there is damage and he won’t be able to, my understanding is that the risk is low. I do mention that risk earlier in this thread though.

  14. Pooter

    My father was the head trainer for nearly a decade for the team. He had very little say in terms of DL and rehab. It was mainly the GM (at the time Bowden) and Doc Kremchek. He said sometimes it used to drive him crazy how injuries were handled (mainly mishandled). Trainers’ hands are tied.