BOSTON — There’s bringing a player up to speed after he’s been out for a lengthy stretch due to injury. Then there’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.
“You can study and simulate stuff all you want, but when you get behind the plate, you’re like that jockey on a saddle,” Scioscia explained prior to Tuesday’s Red Sox-Angels game at Fenway Park. “That’s the feeling you need and that’s where Chris needs the time in order to come together.”
What made the first significant injury of Iannetta’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 Weaver’s no-hitter against Minnesota.
With spring training and the season’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 organization’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.
“At the end of that third game, I was kind of back to where I was right after I had gotten hit,” said Iannetta. “I tried to play through it, but at that point there was nothing I could do. I wasn’t having a problem defensively but offensively I was having trouble getting the bat through the zone.”
As a catcher who spent his every single one of his 13 big-league seasons with the Dodgers, Scioscia understands the finer points of what’s required by those men who make a living crouching behind home plate.
“That pitcher-catcher relationship needs to keep rolling and it was halted when Chris got hurt,” Scioscia explained. “It’s an aspect where we’re working hard to get him up to speed.”
Despite the setback, Iannetta noted there existed a silver lining.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened, but I’m fortunate that it didn’t happen in July or August because I would have been done for the year,” he said. “There’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.”
For someone who says the most serious injury he’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.
“There were days I would rehab early in the afternoon or during the middle of the game,” he explained. “I was able to get through it, though.”
On the first day Iannetta reacquainted himself with his Angels teammates, he caught newly acquired pitcher Zack Greinke. Tuesday marked Iannetta’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 batter’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).
“Every baseball player is not 100 percent at this time of year, but obviously I’m feeling good enough to be out there and play. That’s all that matters,” 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. He’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.
“He battled some aches and pains early on during spring training, but once he got into games, he got acclimated with our pitching staff,” Scioscia noted.
One way to measure Iannetta’s handling of the pitching staff is catcher’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 Boston’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 Scioscia’s lineup. For someone who vividly recalls the one at-bat he has against the team he grew up rooting for – June 24, 2010 against Jonathan Papelbon – Iannetta says he’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.
“It’s fun being back home,” said Iannetta with a slight smile.