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Chris Gimenez joins Tampa Bay Rays' battle to share time behind the plate

PORT CHARLOTTE — The battle to share time behind the plate with Jose Molina officially has a third competitor.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said former Indians and Mariners C Chris Gimenez, signed last week to a minor-league deal, is "absolutely in the mix, no question."

The field already included Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos, a pair of 27-year-olds who have had neither much time nor much success in the majors.

Gimenez, 29, has more big-league experience than either, 97 games over the past three seasons, though only a .171 batting average.

Maddon said Gimenez's experience, versatility and personality make him a worthy candidate.

"We like guys like Chris," Maddon said. "He works good at-bats; he's a good receiver, he receives the ball well; he's a multiple-position kind of a guy, which when you get that out of a catcher that's really sweet. He's able to play corners in the infield and the outfield well. Good athlete.

"And beyond that, great makeup guy. This guy is outstanding. He's very sharp, and he handles himself really well. So there's a variety of different reasons why we wanted him."

Lobaton has played in 22 games with the Padres and Rays, hitting .137. He was injured shortly after being called up in July, following a solid half-season at Triple A, and never got going, hitting .118. Chirinos, acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade last offseason, played in 20 games after being called up following Lobaton's injury, and hit .218.

PITCHING IN: Much has been written about the depth of the team's starting pitching, but there are some relievers in reserve as well.

One who has already further impressed Maddon is RHP Matt Bush, the former No. 1 overall draft pick by San Diego as an infielder who was converted to a pitcher while overcoming additional issues.

"Here's a guy that's overcoming a lot of adversity, and he's doing a great job with it," Maddon said. "To his credit, the second half of last year (for Double-A Montgomery) in the Southern League I guess he was lights out, and it looks like he's carrying that over right now, because it looks really good."

Bush, 26, was 5-3 with a 4.83 ERA with the Biscuits but improved as the season went on, with a 3.04 ERA and 35 strikeouts (and only nine walks) in 23? innings after the All-Star break.

"He's a guy that's learning his craft pretty quickly," Maddon said. "He's a real focused. … He looks right at you, he's very straightforward, and I kind of like it. He's doing everything right right now."

Maddon also noted the work of RHP Josh Lueke and LHP Cesar Ramos.

MISCELLANY: RHP Jeremy Hellickson and LHPs Jake McGee and Matt Moore will attend today's Sarasota/Manatee Chamber luncheon at the Polo Grill in Lakewood Ranch; for tickets call (941) 748-3411. … 1B Carlos Peña said he missed Saturday's FanFest because his mother-in-law had a heart attack in the Dominican Republic and that she now was doing better. … Rays spring games on TV increased to 11 with word that MLB Network will pick up five telecasts; ESPN already has two and Sun Sports four. … Ben Zobrist is the only regular who hasn't reported early; also nonroster invitees INFs Hak-Ju Lee and Juan Miranda, and OFs Brad Coon and Jesus Feliciano.

Jose Molina, front, is the starting catcher, with Chris Gimenez joining Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos in the battle to back up Molina.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Jose Molina, front, is the starting catcher, with Chris Gimenez joining Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos in the battle to back up Molina.

Chris Gimenez joins Tampa Bay Rays' battle to share time behind the plate 02/23/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 11:36am]
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