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Iannetta has made strides behind plate


Iannetta has made strides behind plate
There was more evidence this week that Chris Iannetta

might be the long-term answer for a franchise that's never

developed a frontline catcher.

At Wrigley Field on Wednesday, with the crowd humming and the game slipping through the Rockies' fingers, Iannetta delivered a throw that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler would envy. It unfolded like this: two on, no outs, all-star Geovany Soto, the tying run, at the plate. Rockies pitcher Jason Grilli spiked a slider that caromed off Iannetta's right shin guard.

The Cubs' Mike Fontenot froze, then made a mad dash for third base. Iannetta pounced and fired a bullet that nailed Fontenot by 2 feet. Soon after, the game was over.

"My thought was that (Fontenot) was going to make it because it just seemed like the ball kicked off kind of far," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "That was a huge play for us. It completely took their momentum away. What a throw."

Viewed singularly, the dart was terrific. Viewed through a broader prism, it makes even more sense. With apologies to fishermen, Iannetta spent the entire winter working on his own version of catch and release.

"I had to get in a better position to throw," he said. "It seemed like I was always rushing because they were getting pretty good jumps. No matter where the ball was or the jump, it was important that I had better footwork."

Though the season is young, the difference has been striking. Last season, opponents stole 41 bases in 49 attempts. That's an unfair indictment, Tulowitzki said, because the pitchers "did a bad job of holding runners." Nonetheless, Iannetta has gunned down three runners in four attempts this season. And that doesn't count erasing Fontenot, since he was trying to move up on an errant pitch.

"Chris is throwing the ball better than he ever has," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Entering last season, the question was whether Iannetta would ever realize his potential. He was a nonfactor late in 2007 and didn't catch one playoff game. But he began hitting early last season, and his confidence at the plate mushroomed. By season's end, he was arguably the third-best catcher in the National League behind the Dodgers' Russell Martin and the Braves' Brian McCann.

"Chris has really worked hard to get where he's at with his defense," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "I think he can be an all-star for years to come."

Iannetta, typical of his modesty, reluctantly accepts praise for his defense. He's a perfectionist, teammates say, so he's not about to overreact after a week. He hasn't hit so far this season - he's 1-for-17 with five walks - and anytime pitchers struggle, he takes it personally.

"Yeah, the (winter) work has helped so far, but we will see where it goes the rest of the way," Iannetta said. "That will be the biggest test. Will it hold up over 162 games, that's the true measure."

Troy E. Renck: 303-954-1301 or trenck@denverpost.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 17, 2009

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