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Catching duo has stepped up for Angels this year

Catching duo has stepped up for Angels this year

Catching duo has stepped up for Angels this year

ARLINGTON -- Run through the issues that derailed the Angels in 2013, and you can compile a pretty exhaustive list.

Catching, however, may not be on there.

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Together, Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger established themselves as a more-than-adequate pairing behind the plate, amid a season when the staff had a hard time holding runners and 26 different pitchers -- three shy of the club record -- were used. The two have been behind the plate for every inning except one, and the Angels rank 12th in the Majors in OPS at catcher (.731).

"In combination, they've had a very good season," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said.

"If you look at both guys combined on the offensive side, you see numbers that you go, 'Wow, that's pretty good,' if you're looking for some production from the catching position," manager Mike Scioscia said. "And I think that as the season has gone on, they definitely controlled the running game better -- both guys have -- I think our pitchers have helped them a little bit more. And those guys both play hard. I think those guys have done pretty much what we would've expected them to."

And to get there, both have had to persevere.

Conger has started 59 games behind the plate. Going into the season, though, the Angels weren't even sure if he'd make the team. Conger had the throwing yips in a Spring Training that saw him commit a team-high four errors in Cactus League play, while also making several other errant throws in practices and games that don't count towards those stats. It got so bad, that at one point the Angels signed Chris Snyder to a Minor League catcher as insurance just before the team broke camp.

Fast forward more than six months later, and Conger has thrown out 25 percent of would-be basestealers and is considered among the best in baseball at framing pitches, though he'll have to clean up those seven errors in 528 innings.

"Wow, Spring Training was not a pretty sight for me at all," said Conger, with a .252/.313/.409 slash line on the season. "Really a lot of the credit has to go to a lot of the coaching staff. I mean, you talk about [bullpen coach Steve] Soliz and Scioscia and all those guys, just really the positivity that they were bringing towards me, and the confidence they've shown, especially the way that I was throwing the ball in Spring Training, really showed a lot. And that actually helped me through the season knowing that they did have my back."

For a while, Iannetta -- with a .226/.359/.375 slash line heading into Saturday's start -- was having a woeful time throwing out attempted basestealers, going 6-for-62 to give him a Major League-worst 9.7 percent caught-stealing rate by July 30.

Through it all, Scioscia pinned those struggles on the pitching staff. And because Iannetta caught the vast majority of starts made by Tommy Hanson (slow to the plate) and Joe Blanton (lots of baserunners), his numbers suffered greatly.

Since being exposed while allowing 13 stolen bases to the Rangers on Aug. 6-7, the pitching staff has been better. And Iannetta has thrown out nine of his last 20.

"I'm really proud of the pitching staff; they've done a great job of stepping up and slowly starting to make adjustments," Iannetta said. "They put some effort to it, identified it as a problem, worked on their times and they're starting to come down and be quicker to the plate. Do I think we're where we need to be? No, but we're moving in the right direction."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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