* First-year Blue Jay Dioner Navarro is winning fans for his work behind the plate. For his part, the veteran backstop says he's been impressed by the early work of Drew Hutchison and Mark Buehrle. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2015 Canadian draft list
By Bob Elliott
It’s been said a good catcher is one part linebacker Clay Matthews.
And one part quarterback Tom Brady.
Toughness and smarts are equally needed before putting on catching gear.
New Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro has both areas covered.
Matt Garza and Navarro had a mound disagreement with the Tampa Bay Rays on a hot afternoon with three digit temperatures on June 8, 2008 in Arlington, Tex.
German Duran, the Rangers' No. 9 hitter, hit a two-run homer and Ian Kinsler singled.
Navarro headed to the mound.
“Matt was high intensity, full throttle, I went out to calm him down and he started chirping me, so I chirped him back,” said Navarro before Wednesday’s game against the Houston Astros.
When the third out was recorded, the Rays' battery went down the tunnel and, “I swung at him, he swung at me.”
Battery and assault? Or assault by battery?
The dispute was interrupted by Rays teammates and the fact that Navarro was leading off.
“I went up, struck out, came back and we went at it again,” said Navarro.
“Matt Garza and I are best of friends. I’m sure he talked the Chicago Cubs into signing me last year,” said Navarro. “That day in Texas it was more like an older brother and a younger brother having a brotherly spat.”
Navarro was making his sixth start behind the plate in the Jays' ninth game Wednesday. Catching two out of every three games ... that’s a pace of 108 games.
And that might be a difficult one to maintain. He has not started more than 100 since 2009 with Tampa Bay (105). Since then, Navarro started 36 in 2010 with the Rays, 45 the next year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, 16 with the Cincinnati Reds in 2012, and 53 last year with Garza and the Cubs. Plus, he’s made two starts in the Jays' DH spot.
Navarro has earned praise from pitchers and teammates alike, the highest coming from Jose Bautista who said in St. Pete’s after the second consecutive scoreless outing by a starter: “I’m really enjoying watching the chemistry developing between our new catcher and our starters.”
If that was a 100% compliment to Navarro or 50-50 (a jab at J.P. Arencibia and a Navarro compliment), Navarro paid Bautista back Tuesday. The Jays were up 2-1 with runners at first and second in the sixth inning. Reliever Josh Zeid picked Bautista off second. Navarro then hit his second double to score Edwin Encarnacion from first for a 3-1 lead.
Navarro had two hits, including a double raising his average to .281, and on a busted hit-and-run in the seventh picked up his first stolen base since 2009.
Pitchers' ERA throwing to Navarro is 3.66, lowest amongst the team’s three catchers in a small sample size. Josh Thole, who has caught R.A. Dickey’s two starts, has a 3.86 pitcher’s ERA. Erik Kratz made one start (Drew Hutchison) and has a 6.75 ERA.
“Catchers sometimes need to tell you to get your act together,” said Casey Janssen. “You need to be reminded how important a pitch. To compete. To focus. Even as a closer.”
Janssen said both Bengie Molina and Jose Molina were excellent linebacker-type leaders and he had praise for J.P. Arencibia too.
Navarro has been impressed with his new group of starters.
“Hutchison is impressive the way he carries himself, and Buehrle ... ” said Navarro, flashing a smile you see in a TV commercial. “Buehrle is outstanding. I’d heard that about how he never shook off a catcher -- but I never believed it.
“We might be throwing the wrong pitch in a certain situation, but he throws the pitch with so much conviction it becomes the right pitch.”
As a hitter, Navarro faced both Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan. He now catches both and says they are healthy.
In 2001, the Chicago White Sox obtained Sandy Alomar, Jr. and every fifth day Buehrle took his turn in the rotation.
“I was in awe throwing to Sandy,” said Buehrle. “He was an all-star, I was a 22-year-old kid. That’s probably where the seldom, if ever, shaking off a catcher came from. Like I know more than Sandy Alomar?”
After that, Buerhle threw to Charles Johnson and A.J. Pierzynski.
“A.J. was fiesty, he’d call you out,” said Buehrle.
Buehrle was asked if he was worried about being asked to head down the tunnel by Navarro for a 1-on-1?
“Nah, I’m bigger than him,” said Buehrle with a laugh.