By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The name Curt Casali is appearing more and more on the starting lineup card that Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell turns into the home plate umpire each day.
Is it because the so-called regular catcher, Tucker Barnhart, is batting .163 with nine RBI in 104 at bats and the so-called back-up catcher, Curt Casali, is batting .295 with eight RBI in only 61 at bats?
That might be part of the reason, maybe a major reason, but Bell takes the high road with his explanation. He says Casali, a right handed hitter, is playing against left handed pitchers.
That flies, partially, until you remember that Tucker Barnhart is a switch-hitter and over the past couple of years he played nearly every day, getting a day off on day games after night games. And Barnhart is batting .300 right handed and .143 left handed.
Numbers don’t lie, but they can be twisted like pretzels or straightened like pencils.
“Curt starting more lately has more to do with the left handers we’re facing and that gives me an opportunity to rest Tucker just a little bit,” said Bell.
“That enables us to get Curt more playing time and it makes sense with the demands of that position and what we ask of those guys, both offensively and defensively,” he added. “All they have to do with the pitchers is a big part of the job.
“Curt has done a great job for us, but Tucker is going to continue to get the majority of the playing time, but we are also going to look for opportunities to get Curt playing time.”
Casali, 30, is another of those recent acquisitions by the Reds that cost them little and is paying them big — Scooter Gennett, Jose Iglesias, Derek Dietrich and Casali. He was acquired at this time last season from the Tampa Bay Rays for cash considerations.
All things considered, whatever the cash was has been worth it because the Nashville, Tenn., resident is playing above the numbers on the back of his baseball card.
He was a 10th-round pick by the Rays in 2011 and hopped around the team’s minor-league system for most of seven years, never hitting much, never raising too many eyebrows.
But after arriving in Cincinnati last May 31 he hit .293 in 140 at bats with four homers and 16 RBI.
And Casali was not expected to do much this season after off-season hip surgery cost him spring training playing time. But he has bounced back in a big way.
“He is completely healthy and can physically handle more than he does,” said Bell. “There are no limitations. It is a good catching situation that we have and it makes it easier with Tucker being a switch-hitter and Curt being right handed. It naturally works out.
“We don’t face a lot of left handers but playing Casali is natural when it happens,” Bell added.
And about his suddenly productive bat, Bell said, “He is a guy we really believe is capable of continuing to get better. We’re not hesitant at all to ask more of him as far as playing time because of what he can contribute. He has everything you need to be more than a back-up catcher — offensively and defensively. He does all the things you look for in a catcher.
“It is important to him and to us to not have any limits on what he believes he can do.”
But what to do about Barnhart’s seemingly burned-out bat?
“There is so much more to it. He has been as good as he has ever been defensively,” said Bell, realizing that Barnhart won a Gold Glove two years ago. “He has made some adjustments this year — his pitch-framing, the way he has helped pitchers prepare. He has been a big part of our pitching success.
“There is so much more to it,” Bell said again. “Tucker is going to hit. But there is so many more ways he can contribute. . .and has been.
“They are doing a lot more work defensively, maybe more than in the past and that might contribute to his struggles at the plate,” said Bell. “It is a demanding position, so any time we can give him a break, especially against left handers, is going to help.”
For Bell, though, it certainly isn’t a Catch-22.