DENVER (AP) – Catcher Ramon Hernandez’s job description with the Colorado Rockies in 2012 is to mentor both the young pitching staff and his green backups behind the plate.
Hernandez is enthusiastically embracing both roles.
“As a catcher, you have to be proud of the way you work with pitchers,” Hernandez said. “I know everybody watches how you hit, but the main thing you can do as a catcher to help your team win is call the best game you can. I think I can help our starters go deep into the games. It’s a lot of responsibility.”
The youngster who might ultimately benefit the most from Hernandez’s arrival is 23-year-old catching prospect Wilin Rosario, who showed promise during a September call-up last season.
After sharing catching duties for the last three seasons in Cincinnati, Rosario figures to catch about four games a week for the Rockies with Rosario or another youngster, Jordan Pacheco, serving as his backup.
“Definitely, I’m wide open to that,” Hernandez said. “I will help any player: catcher, pitcher or even a position player. I think that’s great.”
Rosario is one of the organization’s top prospects, and Hernandez said he realizes he’s here to give Rosario pointers in all aspects of the game.
“I want to teach him everything I can teach him,” Hernandez said. “I know he’s going to be the future of this organization, so if he’s the guy and he’s got all the tools and he’s ready to be in the big leagues, then come on, go ahead, I’ll be ready to help.”
That enthusiasm is what endeared Hernandez to Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd, who needed an experienced catcher to bring along Rosario and, more pressingly, to handle a rotation that figures to have greenhorns Drew Pomeranz, Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin in the starting rotation with Alex White and Tyler Chatwood waiting in the wings.
After Hernandez signed a two-year, $6.4 million contract with the Rockies, O’Dowd dealt Chris Iannetta to the Los Angeles Angels.
Hernandez and Iannetta put up similar offensive numbers last season, when the 35-year-old Hernandez played in 91 games in Cincinnati, where he shared catching duties with Ryan Hanigan.
Where Hernandez trumps Iannetta is in experience.
Hernandez has played in 1,457 games – 999 more than Iannetta – during his 13-year major league career with stops in Oakland, San Diego, Baltimore and Cincinnati.
“He’s going to be able to take care of all our pitching staff,” said closer Rafael Betancourt, who played on the same Little League team as Hernandez when they were growing up in Venezuela. “I’m not saying Chris couldn’t do that, but Ramon is at a different level than Chris because of all his experience.”
Hernandez is among a handful of veterans O’Dowd added to his roster over the winter after deciding to change Colorado’s clubhouse culture. He also brought in outfielder Michael Cuddyer, infielder Casey Blake and presumptive ace Jeremy Guthrie.
Hernandez will likely have the biggest impact of them all as he guides the young pitching staff on the field and off and serves as a big brother of sorts to Rosario.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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