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Major works in progress

Allison, Hanigan, Antonelli chasing baseball dreams

The Reds’ Ryan Hanigan singles Sunday against St. Louis. The Reds’ Ryan Hanigan singles Sunday against St. Louis. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
By Maureen Mullen
Globe Correspondent / July 21, 2011

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Baseball offers redemption in various forms. And that redemption can come in varying degrees. Seldom does it come all at once.

When Matt Antonelli was named to the International League All-Star team late last month, it was a measure of redemption for the Peabody native and what he has been through the last two seasons.

He appeared in just 60 games over the last two seasons, including just one rehab game in 2010, his professional baseball career sidetracked by a leg injury and a broken bone in his hand.

Selected by the Padres with the 17th overall pick in the 2006 draft, the 26-year-old Antonelli is now in his first season in the Nationals organization, after he was released by San Diego in December.

However, he started the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, and played four games in Double-A before moving up to Triple-A Syracuse. Playing second base, third base, shortstop, and even one game in left, the 6-foot, 200-pound Antonelli was batting .311 in 44 games when selected to the IL All-Star team for the matchup against the Pacific Coast All-Stars on July 13 in Salt Lake City.

“It definitely makes it special,’’ said Antonelli, the state’s Player of the Year in football and hockey (and runner-up in baseball) his senior year at St. John’s Prep.

“There were points last year where I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to swing again, my hand was hurting me so bad at points. And I had the two surgeries. . . . My first goal was to be able to play again, and play without pain, and I was happy I was able to do that, and I’ve done decently well so far. So, I’m really happy.’’

“Before the year I just wanted to go someplace where I could get some at-bats and show that I was healthy and could still be productive. I’ve been happy that I’ve been on the field playing, and that I’ve been able to do well.’’

And playing multiple positions, he figures, can only help him.

“Not every team is going to need strictly a second baseman. Maybe they’ll need a third baseman or someone that can fill in at shortstop or whatever it might be. . . . I only have a one-year contract here so there’s a possibility I could be looking for a job with other places. The more positions, the easier I think it will make it to find a place to play.’’

Jeff Allison, the No. 1 pick of the Florida Marlins in 2003 out of Peabody High, may be on the move at the end of the season too.

His numbers working out of the bullpen at Double-A Jacksonville (3-2 record, 8.57 earned run average, 56 hits allowing in 34.2 innings) are not impressive, but the righthander feels that he is getting stronger and he is geared up for a solid second half.

Allison, 26, earned the win on July 3 in the Suns’ 17-inning marathon against Birmingham, throwing three hitless innings. “Last year my second half was slow, and this year my second half, I’m getting stronger,’’ said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Allison. “My velocity is a lot better than it was last year. So, I feel like I’m locked in at this point and I’m a lot better pitcher than I used to be as far as pitching goes, not throwing but [pitching]. I actually feel really, really good as opposed to last year, physically especially.’’

Substance abuse nearly ended his career (he says he has now been sober for nearly five years), but Allison remains optimistic about his future if can stay healthy the rest of the season.

“If can do that then I know for sure I’ll put myself in the best possible position for next season and getting an opportunity, hopefully here but if not here, then somewhere else,’’ said Allison, who will be a free agent at season’s end.

“That’s why you see scouts at every single game. . . . They know if someone’s doing well, staying healthy, working hard, and they’re consistent each outing. That’s an opportunity for them to pick up on that particular player.“

“So, that’s all I want. I just want to stay healthy and stay consistent each outing as the season goes, and help our team win any way I can. For baseball, as far as that goes, I’d be content in my life if I stopped. But I feel like I won’t stop until I do reach that ultimate goal [the majors].’’

Off the field, he has been taking college courses (currently, personal finance and composition). He credits the Marlins for standing by him, and he hopes to stay with the organization next season. But right now, his focus is on this year, and just pitching.

“If [the Marlins] don’t [sign me], then I’ll shake all their hands and thank them for everything they’ve done and move on to the next organization, if that’s what’s in my future.’’

Andover native Ryan Hanigan has a clearer picture of his future in Cincinnati. The 30-year-old catcher signed a three-year, $4 million contract with the Reds before the season. He has been subjected to the typical dings and dents this season that any backstop has to endure, including a nasty collision at the plate earlier this month with the Brewers’ Nyjer Morgan.

It’s all just part of the job, said Hanigan. The most important part of his job, though, is handling the pitching staff, which so far this season has included 20 pitchers.

Ask him how his first half went, and he’ll talk about his team before he talks about himself.

“I think team-wise, we haven’t gotten hot yet,’’ said Hanigan, who is working a platoon behind the plate with Ramon Hernandez. At 47-49, the reigning National League Central champions were four games behind the Pirates on Tuesday morning.

“We haven’t gone on the run we’d like to. We’re still in the race, but I don’t think anyone feels like we’ve played as well as we could have. And with that being said, the fact that we’re still in the race is huge.

“I think we have too good of a team to not get hot and make a push. But at the same time, we’ve lost a lot of close games, and losing those games like that obviously puts us behind the eight ball,’’ he said. “But I still think we’re right there and if we can get it going, get on a little winning streak, we’ll be right back in the mix.

“Personally, I’ve fought a few injuries and haven’t been as happy with my numbers (.251 average, 3 home runs, 20 RBIs in 59 games) as I would have liked, but I feel like I’m working well with this pitching staff. There’s been a lot of guys coming in and out, working with a lot of guys. So that’s been a big part of my focus, trying to make sure I can keep these guys on track.

“Hopefully I can get a little more consistent with my swing. I feel pretty good but haven’t had too many good breaks in between the lines. I feel like I’m doing all right but not as good as I could be.’’

To remedy that, he was planning to tweak a few things over the All-Star break, putting himself and his team in the best position for the second half. “Our chemistry on this team, even with our struggles, it’s still been very positive,’’ he said.

“I like coming to work every day. There’s a lot of guys I really get along with and even if we’re struggling, we still have fun and we still work hard. You put all those things together, it doesn’t make it as tough a push.’’

Maureen Mullen can be reached at mullen_maureen@yahoo.com.