Iannetta settling in as second year begins
Former Rockie thankful to be major part of winning organization
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The closest thing to heaven for a big league catcher may be crouching behind the dish for the Halos. As Chris Iannetta prepares for his second season as the Angels' starting catcher, he exudes a confidence and comfort level buoyed by an organization that holds paramount the pitcher-catcher relationship.
"It's been great," Iannetta said of the opportunity to work with Mike Scioscia, a veteran of 15 big league seasons as a catcher. "To have someone who played as long as he has and managed as long as he has with the wealth of knowledge that he has about the game of baseball and pitch-calling and handing a staff, and just being able to have conversation and talk to him -- some of the little caveats he pulls out in passing have been very helpful and beneficial."
The admiration is a two-way street, as Scioscia and his staff are counting on Iannetta's veteran leadership to help mold a pitching staff that has three new starters joining Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson in the rotation.
"He's terrific [working with pitchers]," Scioscia said of Iannetta. "On the defensive side, he's tough, he has the arm strength and accuracy to deter a running game, his receiving skills and his blocking skills are good, and at the plate you see a guy with a little pop and the ability to get on base that can give a boost to the bottom part of your lineup."
As far as boosting the bottom of the lineup, Iannetta went yard for his first Cactus League homer on Thursday, a two-run shot onto the concourse in left field in a 12-3 Angels win over the Padres.
"I feel about where I should be at this time," Iannetta said of his spring at the plate. "I'm starting to get my legs under me, starting to get the body in game shape. I feel like I'm seeing the ball OK. It's a process. We still have another month left. Where we're at right now, we'd probably only be four or five days into games [in a normal spring], so definitely ahead of the curve from where we were last year."
And tough? Iannetta was hit by a pitch in the second inning of a game against the Twins on May 2. He stayed in for all nine innings, catching Weaver's no-hitter, and played four more games before going on the disabled list with a fractured wrist.
With Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson rounding it out, the starting rotation is already set and focused on pitching more than winning jobs.
"Last year, it was a learning process," Iannetta said. "It wasn't anything overwhelming, just something you had to go through. I've been through it before, so I knew what it would take to do it.
"[This year], the guys on the staff, they're pretty easy, because they're guys who'll pretty much throw anything you put down and throw any pitch in any count. So, there's really nothing quirky about them that makes it difficult or requires a longer, extended learning curve."
While hitters may be ahead of the curve, the Angels have kept their pitchers on a regular Spring Training schedule, sending them to the mound for the first time on March 1, roughly a week into Cactus League play. Iannetta hasn't had much game experience with the new members of the rotation yet, but the chemistry is developing.
"From the limited amount of work, I'm positive about it," Blanton said. "He's really got the mind focus to do what he can do to help us be the best we can be, or help us get better, which is always a positive for a pitcher. It makes you feel good and comfortable about going into a new situation with a catcher."
Iannetta came to the Angels from the Rockies, where he rewrote the record book for Colorado catchers. In six seasons, he set the all-time franchise marks for games caught (427), hits (336), walks (241), runs (196), doubles (72) and homers (62). He's set to make his fifth consecutive Opening Day start, sixth in all, and he knows how to turn his experience-based confidence into a game plan with a pitching staff.
"You definitely lay the foundation [in spring]," Iannetta said of the relationship with his pitchers. "You learn everything you possibly can. You learn their stuff, you learn what they like to do from conversations and then being there in games. But your relationship with a pitcher is never as good as it's going to be the next day.
"It's like any other friendship or any relationship you have in life. When you're around that person and work with them and interact with them, it gets better the more you know each other."
In past seasons, Iannetta may have gone overboard, studying tape in the offseason to come into camp already versed in a pitcher's patterns, but he's learned to focus more on building knowledge together rather than gleaning it from the archives.
"I found that what you see guys do in the past -- you're going to spend a lot of time learning a guy in the offseason that if you just talk to him for 45 minutes in Spring Training, you learn the same things," Iannetta said. "They can tell you better what they think. You'd rather know what they think than what you see, at times."
Overall, Iannetta picked up 25 games in the standings when he moved to the Angels last year, earning a newfound respect for a franchise with a winning tradition. But for this rock-steady presence behind the plate, the biggest change came with the absences of pitchers hitting in the American League.
"In the National League, I was hitting in front of a pitcher the whole time," Iannetta said. "Last year, I got to hit in front of [Rookie of the Year Mike]Trout.
"I like where I'm at."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.