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Fabregas knows place on team, if he gets one

Veteran catcher can bring experience to the Rays, if they want him.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Much like your garden variety offensive lineman in football or sixth man in basketball, the life of a backup catcher often is a glamorless one.

Jorge Fabregas isn't about attention, though.

Years removed from his days as Anaheim's starting catcher, the 32-year-old has created a niche for himself, honed the job's duties along the way and this spring is trying win a spot on the Rays' opening-day roster as Toby Hall's backup.

"Since I've been a nonstarter, a guy that doesn't catch every day, I've realized how precious this game is," he said. "And I realize how I can help. I really like to help people out through little things I can do. I think the position I'm in and the role I'm in that's expected of me.

"I couldn't go to sleep at night thinking that I didn't help the team."

One of six competing for the job, and easily the most experienced of the group, Fabregas takes his role seriously.

The Miami native keeps detailed books on hitters and stays in the dugout to watch the first few innings of a game before heading to the bullpen to catch relievers as they warm up.

"A lot of guys don't do that. I do," said Fabregas, a veteran of 646 career major-league games with the Angels, White Sox, Diamondbacks, Mets, Marlins, Braves, Royals and Brewers. "That's how I prepare to stay sharp defensively.

"When it's your time to catch and Toby has a day off, the team cannot skip a beat. Whenyou're in there, everything has to flow together."

Fabregas is more familiar with manager Lou Piniella and his staff than probably any player in camp because he spent parts of six seasons with the Angels, who compete against the Mariners in the American League West.

"There's a lot of respect, no question about that," Fabregas said. "Being an opponent, you know that Lou's over there and some of the moves he's making. As a catcher you're preparing to see who he sends up there as a pinch-hitter and how he uses a bullpen.

"You can tell that Lou is on top of things and knows exactly what he's doing. That's why he's a winner. In that sense it'd be great to play under him. It's going to be very interesting."

But there are no guarantees Fabregas' knowledge of Piniella, and in turn the coaching staff's familiarity with him, will translate into a spot on the roster.

Six of the seven catchers have major-league experience.

"Jorge takes a lot of pride in his catching," said Rays bullpen coach Matt Sinatro, who also was on Piniella's staff in Seattle. "All the catchers are doing very well. He knows it's very important to play once or twice a week, to go in there and get the job done and do exactly what we want."

Fabregas and Sandy Martinez, who has played in 214 major-league games with four teams, would seem to have an advantage because they fit Piniella's desire for a left-handed hitting catcher.

A career .241 hitter, Fabregas' most productive offensive year came in 1997 with the Angels and White Sox. He played in a career-high 121 games that season and batted a combined .258 with seven homers and 51 RBIs.

Defensive ability, however, will carry just as much weight.

"I'm looking for somebody who, when he catches, can win some ballgames for you," Piniella said. "If you take the best offensive second catcher, you're doing your pitching staff a disservice. We want somebody who can handle the pitching staff, can throw a little bit and keep other people from running and that can come in late in the ballgame, if we have to pinch run for Toby in a tight ballgame, and handle the staff."

Hall, who worked alongside veteran John Flaherty the past two seasons, would welcome the chance to keep learning from another veteran ... a veteran who once was in the same position as him.

"When I came up (in 1994) I kind of took Greg Myers' spot in Anaheim," Fabregas said. "He really took me under his wing, tried to help me out. He wasn't going to leave me out on an island alone. I think good teams surround themselves with people like that.

"The backups know their roles, they pick up the starters when they're done, pat them on the back, congratulate guys when they do well. That's how you create a team. That's how you create a good club."

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