GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) Devin Mesoraco hoped to follow his All-Star season with another big one in the middle of the Cincinnati Reds' order. Instead, a hip problem limited him to six appearances behind the plate last year and led to surgery.
Now it's a matter of getting back into shape to be the everyday catcher again.
The 27-year-old had surgery June 29 to repair a tear and remove a spur from his left hip. The recovery has gone as planned, with Mesoraco able to work out fully last month.
''Everything has gone to plan as far as the hip is goes,'' Mesoraco said. ''I feel like I'm close to normal.''
The Reds need Mesoraco to add some power to the middle of their trade-depleted lineup and help a young pitching staff grow. The Reds went with an all-rookie rotation in the second half of last season after trading Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, the first significant moves in a major rebuilding.
The Reds also traded closer Aroldis Chapman and third baseman Todd Frazier in the offseason. They tried to trade second baseman Brandon Phillips, but he blocked deals. A deal involving right fielder Jay Bruce fell through this week.
Mesoraco has been working on catching since January. He had 90-minute sessions four days a week to regain his strength. In the first week of camp, he's been catching in the bullpen every day.
''It will be nice to have him out there,'' manager Bryan Price said. ''He was on his way to being a premier catcher in the league. He has done all the catching stuff to prepare. Now it is about building endurance.''
Before last season, Mesoraco set a goal of catching 140 games. He's not expecting to play in so many during his first season back from surgery.
''This year I'm going to leave that up to the organization,'' he said. ''If there is a limitation, it will be precautionary.''
Mesoraco became the everyday catcher in 2014 and was chosen by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny for the All-Star team. He batted .273 in 114 games with 25 homers and 80 RBIs. He joined Johnny Bench as the only Reds catcher to have at least 25 homers and 80 RBIs in a season. He also tied the club records with three grand slams and a homer in five consecutive games.
He started the first five games last season - the first Reds catcher to do that since Jeff Reed in 1989 - but started having soreness in the hip. He sat out a series while getting treatment, and was a defensive replacement behind the plate on April 12. He was limited to pinch-hitting and filling in as a DH for interleague games before going on the disabled list May 25. When the pain didn't go away with treatment, he had the surgery.
The coaching staff is working with him on his swing and his movements behind the plate don't irritate the hip.
''Devin's best days are ahead of him,'' Price said. ''He is only going to get better at calling games. He is getting in better position to block pitches. We felt there was some wear and tear in the way he was dropping to a knee to block certain pitches.''
Mesoraco is being patient with his swing, which is off because he was sidelined for so long.
''I feel like I'm close but it's going to take some time,'' Mesoraco said. ''When we get into games, I know my timing will come around.''