Fay: After three surgeries and months of rehab, Devin Mesoraco makes it back to normal

Fay: After three surgeries and months of rehab, Devin Mesoraco makes it back to normal
Posted at 9:47 PM, May 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-23 02:09:38-04

CINCINNATI -- It was perhaps the most meaningful meaningless home run in the Reds history.

On May 3, Devin Mesoraco hit a home run that made a 6-0 game against Pittsburgh a 7-0 game. Mesoraco put his head down and ran the bases like there would be a chance that he'd be thrown out at home.

"He made it around the bases faster than I've ever seen him run the bases," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "I think there was so much adrenaline in being back, contributing to the team. It was a special moment for me, too. I wasn't lost in what it meant to Devin."

The home run was 2 1/2 years in the making.

"I was definitely excited," Mesoraco said. "It meant more to me than the situation of the game dictated. I never questioned that I'd hit a home run again. But to actually do it, yeah, that felt pretty good."

Mesoraco had gone 920 days since last hitting a home run. He had three surgeries in the interim -- one on each hip and another on his shoulder.

Mesoraco has kept on hitting. He was hitting .317/.429/.512 with two home runs going into Monday's game.

Plenty of people doubted if Mesoraco would ever be the player he was pre-surgeries -- the guy who hit 25 home runs and drove in 80 runs in 2014.

Much of social media had reached a verdict: He wouldn't catch again, and the best-case scenario was a move to outfield or to the American League where he could DH.

Mesoraco never had such dire thoughts, but he did have doubts.

"I would say that my doubts were ‘Am I going to be the same guy?'" he said. "'Am I going to feel capable of going out there having the same swing? The same bat speed?' All that is still to be determined. I've got 40-some at-bats.

"My goal is to get through the season - whatever we have to do to get through the season. What the numbers end up, great."

But Mesoraco has hit his biggest goal: He feels normal.

The journey back to normal was a long one. Rehab is drudgery. It can be boring. It can be painful. It can be lonely.

"We all talk about the physical stuff," Price said. "But it's the mental toll of not being able to compete and trying to get your body back. The mental beatdown of two or three seasons of continuous injury."

Mesoraco explained that simply: "It sucks.

"As a competitor, you can't compete in the weight room," he said. "You can't compete in the training room. That's what I missed -- being around the guys, being on the field. That part sucked."

Mesoraco spent the winter in Cincinnati working with catching coach Mike Stefanski, who had to be more of monitor than a motivator.

"I don't think anybody has any idea what he's gone through," Stefanski said. "He's always had to work very hard at his catching, even when he was healthy. The rehab adds a new dimension. He's such a hard worker and he wants to do so much. I had to throttle him back and keep him on pace instead of letting him overwork himself.

"Absolutely, it's work. Beyond the rehab, just from the catching aspect, it would be work for anybody. I don't know how many guys put as much work into catching in the offseason as he does. The rehab is hard enough. To combine that with trying to get back to catch at the level he caught before he got hurt does take a lot work."

The Reds went slow with Mesoraco. He spent 20 days on a rehab with Double-A Pensacola.

"I think this year it was beneficial to let him go and play some games to work through that uncomfortableness of being behind the plate before he got here," Stefanski said.

Mesoraco has played well since he was activated on April 28. He thrown out three of six would-be base stealers. He gives the credit for finding his swing to hitting coach Don Long.

"I feel like we've gotten a lot better," Mesoraco said. "A lot of the credit has to go to Don. He really identified the ways that made me successful in '14 - how we can get back to that place. We've been staying steady with our work, trying to get better."

"I didn't have any expectations based on results," Mesoraco said. "My expectations are more: I've got to get out there, work hard. Don put together a good plan for exactly what he thought would get me back to exactly where I need to be. I followed that. The results have been the results.

"Whatever happens there, you can't control. I've been happy with my at-bats. Things are falling into place."