tampabay.com

Navarro - and Rays - eager for a breakout

Dioner Navarro has been waiting for this weekend's series to show the Dodgers they were wrong for trading him.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 22, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Dioner Navarro has been waiting for this weekend's series to show the Dodgers they were wrong for trading him.

The Devil Rays, who in acquiring Navarro a year ago said he could have impact behind and at the plate and be a cornerstone in their building process, are still waiting for him to prove them right.

Navarro's first full year with the Rays hasn't been what they projected, not with him hitting .170 lowest by far of all starting catchers with 10 RBIs this season and concern that the 23-year-old's offensive struggles are affecting his defense.

"Navi is a very young player playing a premium position at the highest level, " executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "The biggest emphasis for him right now is to continue to grow defensively and continue to get to know our pitchers to maximize their strengths. Offensively he has obviously struggled this season, but we continue to be confident that he is a much better offensive player than he's shown to date."

Manager Joe Maddon says Navarro, who hit .244 last year, is going through "a tough time, " noting his youth ("If he was 27, I'd be a little more concerned") and a tendency to make too many changes.

"He's been searching a little bit, " Maddon said. "One thing he was noted for prior to coming here was being a patient hitter and seeing more pitches. He's not been as patient as he needs to be, and because of that he's swinging at pitches he really can't, or isn't used to, hitting and driving."

Or, as Navarro admitted: "Early in the season, I was hitting the ball hard, and it was frustrating, and I started changing things and doing stupid stuff and made it worse instead of better. I have to forget about this and go back to what got me here."

Specifically, the Rays want Navarro, a switch-hitter, to be more patient and make better use of the opposite field, which can be difficult requests in the major-league spotlight. Mixing in a few clutch hits wouldn't hurt, either: With runners in scoring position and two outs, he is just 1-for-29.

Navarro figures this weekend is as good a time as any. As pleased as he was to be traded to Tampa Bay, where he already had an offseason home and a team of doctors familiar with his wife's and son's medical conditions, there is some lingering resentment over the circumstance.

He was the Dodgers' primary catcher (and hitting .429 on a 10-game tear) until being struck on the wrist by a foul tip May 4, 2006. When he was healed six weeks later, rookie Russell Martin was the starter, and Navarro was sent down.

Navarro said he called Dodgers GM Ned Colletti to complain that, "I don't think I deserve to lose my job because I'm injured." This weekend, he's ready to show them.

"I think I did a pretty good job when I played for them, and I'm looking forward to playing against them, " Navarro said. "I know I've been struggling with my bat the whole year, but hopefully this will be my breakout, my breakthrough series."