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Young Rockies catcher plays for U.S. in World Baseball Classic

Colorado Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta felt thrilled when asked to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Then he had second thoughts.

Not because he didn’t want to be a patriot, but because he’s young and trying to establish himself with the Rockies.

“I was excited about it and I thought it was an opportunity of a lifetime,” he said, “but then . . . I starting thinking . . . do I really need to miss this much spring training time? Am I needed in camp, and what’s best for the Rockies?

“I talked to a few guys on the team and they told me to go ahead and do it, that it would be a great opportunity and I would catch up. With those factors I have decided to do it, and I’m excited about it.”

There’s no holding him back. The third-year Colorado catcher will be behind the plate with USA playing Canada on Saturday.

Iannetta is worth the wait for Colorado.

Known for his defense – he was named the California League’s best catcher after being drafted in the fourth round in 2005 – he’s also turned into an offensive weapon who can swing away at Denver’s Coors Field.

“He’s earning his way,” Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said. “He has worked really hard and very diligently. He has made some dramatic improvement in his plate presence. He has raw power.”

Besides having one error in 181 career major league games, he drove in 65 runs during the 2008 season – the highest total ever by a Rockies catcher – playing a career-high 104 games.

“I felt a lot more comfortable,” Iannetta said. “I had more consistent playing time. That was the biggest thing.

“Instead of playing once every five days, I was playing two or three days in a row and getting consistency behind the plate and at the plate.”

Iannetta hit .264, but 42 of his 88 hits went for extra bases, including 18 homers and 22 doubles.

Iannetta stayed with the Rockies the entire 2008 season, the first time he didn’t drop down to the minors.

Being optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2007 might have been the turning point for Iannetta. He’d had one hit in 32 at-bats when the Rockies sent him down.

“When we had to move him out, he handled it very professionally,” Hurdle said. “He probably got better from it. That’s always something you draw to and get better from. He didn’t get bitter. He got down there and got better.

“He has used that experience as self-motivation. He knows where he has been and he knows where he wants to go.”

Rockies notes

Tuesday: Milwaukee Brewers 8, Rockies 6

Wednesday: Off day

Hitting recap: Seth Smith and Dan Ortmeier homered for Colorado in the loss.

Pitching recap: Rockies starter Greg Smith, who allowed three runs on three hits and three walks in two innings against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, gave up two runs on three hits without a walk.

Greg Reynolds allowed four runs on three hits and three walks in three relief innings for the Rockies.

The Associated Press

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