TAMPA — He crouches behind the plate with a mask obstructing his vision, but make no mistake — Ryan Hanigan sees all.
The 33-year-old Rays catcher, acquired from Cincinnati in a three-team trade in December, has wasted little time earning the trust of a dynamic pitching staff by displaying a cerebral approach to the game.
“That was awesome,’’ said Alex Cobb after pitching to Hanigan for three scoreless innings against Toronto last week. “I needed to get that out of the way to see how we’re going to think together. We were pretty much on the same page from the start.’’
Hanigan spends a good portion of his waking hours thinking about the art of catching. Framing pitches, setting up hitters and gaining the confidence of the men on the mound are his priorities.
Any production from the batter’s box is considered a bonus.
“Hanigan is a joy to be with,’’ said Rays manager Joe Maddon, a former minor-league catcher. “Here’s a guy who gets it. He works it and he got the respect of everybody within a couple of days because of how he goes about his business. His track record is fabulous.’’
In Hanigan’s five years with the Reds, pitchers posted an ERA of 3.63 with him behind the plate, the lowest mark among active catchers with at least 400 games.
“As a catcher, you can have a huge influence on a game, even if you go 0-4 at the plate,’’ said Hanigan, who lined an RBI single against the Yankees in Sunday’s 3-3 Grapefruit League tie. “One thing I know is I can never let my offense affect the rest of my game.’’
Hanigan’s bat is better than advertised, Maddon said. Hanigan hit only .190 against right-handed pitching last year, but his .359 career on-base percentage suggests he has a good eye at the plate.
The Rays view catcher primarily as a defensive position and Hanigan fits the profile, along with returning veteran Jose Molina.
“I’m always thinking about different ways to set up guys, and Hanigan is, too,’’ Cobb said. “His creativity has opened up a lot of different avenues for me and he’s just a fun guy to talk about pitching with. The way he thinks about it, he is helping expand my game, exploring different ways to attack different types of hitters.’’
Hanigan, who attended Rollins College in Winter Park, is used to a winning atmosphere.
The Reds went to the postseason in three of Hanigan’s final four seasons in Cincinnati and he caught 10 shutouts in his 66 starts last year. During his National League career, the Reds boasted a .574 winning percentage in Hanigan’s 394 starts.
“I worked with some very good pitchers in Cincinnati and I see the same thing right here,’’ said Hanigan, who owns six Australian Shepherds. “First and foremost, I see a lot of talent in this clubhouse. They’ve created a winning atmosphere and the Rays expect to win ... that’s half the battle. All these pitchers are pushing each other and it’s really impressive to see the unity. These guys get it done ... and they have a good time doing it.’’
Maddon affectionately describes Hanigan as a “throwback’’ player in terms of his unwavering focus and passion for the game.
“He’s easy to like — and his bat is going to be better than people realize,’’ Maddon said. “This guy’s a good offensive player. I thought we were very fortunate to land him.’’