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New Tampa Bay Rays catcher Gregg Zaun needs to learn about pitching staff

SEATTLE — C Gregg Zaun was thrilled to get back in a pennant race with the trade to the Rays.

Now comes the hard part.

Or at least the hard work, as Zaun, 38, has to quickly learn the tendencies and preferences of the Rays pitching staff. That process began immediately as he and James Shields sat and talked about his repertoire in preparation for Saturday night's game, and it seemed to work out well.

"I thought he was fine,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought he was in pretty good synch with Shieldsy, typically receives the ball well, a couple really good blocks, good at-bats too. I thought he had a really good first day for us.''

Shields said it may take a couple starts to feel totally in a groove, but also had praise for the veteran pro: "He gives a great target and he knows the game really well so I feel real comfortable with him.''

Zaun knows it will be an ongoing process. "I'm going to be working overtime here for the next couple of weeks," he said. "It's something that has to be done. I don't want to be the reason these guys come up short, so I'm going to do all I can."

Zaun has the advantage of having played in the AL East the past six seasons, so he at least has seen most of them throw. "Now it's getting an opportunity to see what the ball looks like from a different perspective," he said.

Maddon said the process shouldn't take long but acknowledged "there's going to be that uncomfortable moment until he sees everybody."

The Rays will give Zaun ample playing time but will ease him since he's 38 and hasn't been playing regularly. Dioner Navarro will catch today.

CRUEL MEMORIES: LHP J.P. Howell admitted it was hard to get through the night Friday after the heartbreaking 7-6, 11-inning loss, when he was a strike away from victory and gave up a two-run walkoff homer to Ryan Langerhans.

"I'd be good for like 15-20 minutes, then there'd be these three-minute periods where I'd be just miserable," Howell said Saturday.

It wasn't all Howell's fault, as the Rays blew a 5-1 seventh-inning lead as Jeff Niemann's good start unraveled and relievers Grant Balfour and Brian Shouse couldn't do anything to help as the M's tied it at 5.

The Rays went ahead when Jason Bartlett homered in the 11th, but Howell allowed a leadoff walk then with two outs and a 2-and-2 count hung a curve, which ended up his first walkoff homer allowed. It was the first homer off him by a lefty since May 27, 2008 (Josh Hamilton).

ROSTER SHUFFLE: The Rays designated C Michel Hernandez and INF Joe Dillon for assignment to make room for Zaun and RHP Russ Springer. The moves leave the Rays with just three position players on the bench, meaning they have no emergency catcher and CF B.J. Upton, a converted shortstop, may start taking ground balls again for potential emergency late-game infield duty.

In between, they claimed LHP R.J. Swindle off waivers from the Brewers, optioned him to Triple-A Durham then designated him because they had to have a 40-man roster spot open to make the Springer acquisition. With Dillon gone, the roster is at 39.

MISCELLANY:3B Evan Longoria has eight homers in his last 24 games after going 18 games without one. ... OF Fernando Perez and RHP Chad Bradford were rained out of rehab action with Class A Charlotte and will try again today. … C Shawn Riggans is back on the DL at Triple-A Durham with a mild oblique strain. … RHP Jeff Niemann on Friday became the 401st pitcher to give up a homer to Ken Griffey.

New Tampa Bay Rays catcher Gregg Zaun needs to learn about pitching staff 08/09/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 9, 2009 8:16am]

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