09/06/08 8:04 PM ET
Iannetta not wearing down
Catcher will continue to play regularly during stretch drive
By Jeff Birnbaum / MLB.com
Bricks don't wear down easily, and neither does Iannetta, who said he is ready for the stretch run in his first full Major League season.
"I feel good," said Iannetta, who made his 78th start of the season on Saturday. "I feel like I have the whole year. Obviously, it's the end of the season, so everyone's kind of feeling the same way. But I feel fine."
Iannetta's transition to everyday catcher was aided by Yorvit Torrealba, who made 64 starts before going on the disabled list Aug. 30 with a meniscus tear. That left recent Triple-A callups Adam Melhuse and Edwin Bellorin as the only backups.
Iannetta has started six of the past seven games, but manager Clint Hurdle is confident the 25-year-old can handle the additional playing time. Iannetta was able to catch his breath during an off-day Thursday, and will benefit from three more work-free days in the final three weeks of the season.
"I think we can probably increase his workload," Hurdle said. "We'll still look for opportunities to give him a little rest if needed. But with the days off, we might be able to specifically maximize his opportunities for games played."
That's just fine with Iannetta, who has been one of the most productive catchers in the Majors this season. Entering Saturday, the University of North Carolina graduate had reached base in 37 of his past 38 games and led all big league catchers with a .906 OPS [on-base plus slugging percentage].
Iannetta struggled at the plate last year, hitting just .218 with 58 strikeouts in 67 games. But he's shown much better patience this season, drawing 46 walks and improving his average to .275.
"I think it's just a product of getting some consistent playing time, being able to get into a rhythm and make adjustments," he said.
Iannetta has also been a solid field general from behind the plate. He's one of only three Major League catchers without an error this season, and he has deftly handled an inconsistent pitching staff.
Though one usually needs a megaphone to hear the soft-spoken Iannetta, he wasn't shy about voicing his frustrations to Ubaldo Jimenez during the starter's poor outing last week against the Padres. Iannetta yelled at him to refocus and establish his fastball.
Hurdle didn't think Iannetta was out of line. He said Iannetta's performance on the field has warranted his increased leadership in the clubhouse.
"Once he got into a comfort zone and got his hands around the staff, he became more than qualified to challenge them and get them to perform at their peak levels," Hurdle said.
Iannetta has performed at his peak level throughout the season, and he has no intentions of slowing down.
"Right now, I'm ready to do whatever the team needs me to do," he said. "If they want me to play, I'm ready."
Jeff Birnbaum is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.