Gophers catchers back behind the plate, healthy

Matt Halloran and Austin Athmann both suffered injuries last season.

Minnesota catcher Matt Halloran celebrates with his team after hitting a two-run home run against Iowa on Friday, April 27, 2012, at the Metrodome.

Daily File Photo, Mark Vancleave

Minnesota catcher Matt Halloran celebrates with his team after hitting a two-run home run against Iowa on Friday, April 27, 2012, at the Metrodome.

Ben Gotz

Last season, the Gophers couldn’t seem to get any luck behind the plate.

Redshirt senior catcher Matt Halloran, who’s expected to be the team’s regular backstop, only caught one game because of an arm injury.

As a result, Austin Athmann was put into the lineup as a freshman. But injuries took him out for large stretches, too.

Now, both are back to form a one-two punch behind home plate.

“They’re both great catchers,” senior pitcher Ben Meyer said. “Especially for the pitching staff — to be able to throw to either of those guys any given day, it takes a lot of pressure off.”

After starting the Gophers’ first game as catcher last season, Halloran’s injury prevented him from returning.

“I pretty much couldn’t throw,” Halloran said. “It felt like there was a knife in my elbow.”

But missing almost all of what was supposed to be his senior season didn’t sit well with Halloran. It didn’t take him long to decide to apply for a medical redshirt.

“It was a long year — it was tough,” Halloran said. “But I’m just glad I could come back. It was an easy decision to come back.”

Halloran left the lineup for good after serving as a designated hitter in five games.

But he stayed in the team’s dugout, mentoring Athmann.

On the bench, Halloran continued his routine of jotting notes on opposing batters and sharing tips with Athmann between innings.

For the freshman, the advice was invaluable.

“Matt was a huge help,” Athmann said. “He was really there every step of the way.”

Thanks to Halloran, Athmann now carries a notebook of his own in the dugout.

“I think they’re both really students of the game,” Meyer said. “They study the scouting reports. They pick up a lot of tendencies throughout the game and make adjustments as needed. It really helps the pitcher out with pitch calling, and we put a lot of trust in their signs.”

Athmann grew behind the plate and also in the box, hitting .277 his first year on campus. But his injuries slowed his momentum.

“It was really tough because I was on a roll and playing very well,” he said. “I was real confident in my game.”

So with their top two catchers hurt, the Gophers were forced to adjust on the fly.

Utility player Mark Tatera, redshirt sophomore Troy Traxler and redshirt sophomore Matt Stemper all took turns filling in, though it wasn’t the same.

“[Last year], where we had to take a kid that caught in high school, another kid who caught in ninth grade and try to create a catching situation on the run — it wasn’t pleasant,” head coach John Anderson said before this season’s start.

But now, the Gophers have the two catchers in the lineup. And if they stay there, Minnesota will feel the boost.

“The big important part of our team is our catching situation,” Anderson said. “That’ll be a big part of our team, if those two players can stay healthy.”