Navarro refuses to look back 1
ST. PETERSBURG - Dioner Navarro's fall was spectacular. To go from an all-star on a championship team in 2008 to a humiliating demotion to Durham in late June all but screamed that he was a player whose usefulness to the Tampa Bay Rays had passed.
Ah, but this is baseball and the plot can change quickly. No football jerseys
one can say for sure just what will happen with Navarro, but he rejoined the Rays here Wednesday and was behind the plate. He contributed a single in the 2-1 win against Toronto.
That's a start.
He might be just a bit player providing some depth in the last month of the regular season, or with a break here or there he once again could become a key figure in a playoff run. However it goes, Navarro isn't looking back. The view isn't good anyway.
"I am not the only player who went through this," Navarro said. "I know a few guys who have gone through this and they're doing just fine. I just focus on positive things."
A positive, at least from Navarro's vantage point, is that the Rays stress pitching and defense. He is the best defensively of their three catchers and he is known for how well he handles a pitching staff.
When he went to Durham, Navarro was buried deep on the Rays' bench, but that was before we got to September with Kelly Shoppach hitting .189 overall. Here's where it gets a little tricky, though. The Rays figure to see a lot of left-handers in the playoffs and Shoppach's bat becomes a plus there (he hits .242 against them, compared to .133 vs. righties).
Also, technically Navarro isn't eligible for the postseason because he wasn't on the 25-man roster until after the Aug. 31 deadline, but the rules leave some wiggle room if he proves he belongs. That takes us back to where we started because he'll get some chances in the coming month, either in spot starts like Wednesday or as a defensive replacement.
"I'm pretty sure he's eager to get back here and prove he belongs," teammate Carl Crawford said. "He's a good defensive catcher; the pitchers like throwing to him. He always handled the pitching staff pretty well."
Handling the demotion, though, might have been his most important move of Buffalo Bills jersey
the season. He could have sulked, but he didn't. He didn't set off fireworks when he left. Navarro just went to Durham and worked on getting better.
No, seriously. That's basically all he did. Most players in Navarro's situation keep close tabs on the big-league club, keenly aware of anything that might get them back. Not Navarro, though.
"I didn't watch one ( Rays) game. I didn't read anything. It was kind of a personal thing. This is a really nice organization but it was tough for me, first time in Triple-A (since 2006)," he said. "I just focused on myself and the things I needed to do to get back. That was the bottom line."
The plan worked.
"He handled it great. I've got nothing but sterling reports regarding his effort, how he went about his business, how he dealt with the other guys," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"The biggest thing to be concerned about when a guy goes back under those circumstances is how he handles it mentally. He did everything right."
Part of "everything right" was regaining his batting stroke. Navarro hit .284 in Durham. Yes, that was against Triple-A pitching, but so what? For Navarro, there was a bigger picture.
"I just went down there and played almost every day. It was more of a repetition thing - two days catching, one day DH, one day off," he said.
"I was in a situation here where there was a lot of pressure, a lot of eyes looking over my shoulder and stuff like that. I just went there and played and go back to what I love to do. I enjoyed my time, catching, and that was it. It was kind of a relaxing time. There wasn't much pressure from you guys (media), the fans, TV, all that stuff. We had a good team down there, we played hard, and we really enjoyed ourselves playing."
That trip to Durham showed Navarro first-hand how quickly things can change, Steelers jersey
but now he's back. As for the rest of it, well, there's no sense trying to think too much.
"I'm glad it's over with," Navarro said. "We'll see what happens now."
Photo: Dioner Navarro. Catcher went to Durham, worked on improving. Catcher went to Durham, worked on improving.