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Rays catcher Gimenez has rebuilt swing, career

PORT CHARLOTTE — There's not much more Rays catcher Chris Gimenez could have done this spring.

Gimenez, 30, competing with Jose Lobaton for the second catcher job, has hit .368, picking up where he left off at the end of last season. He has been strong defensively, and manager Joe Maddon said pitchers enjoy throwing to him.

But though Gimenez has outshined Lobaton, who is hitting .257 and has admittedly struggled, there's a good chance he'll begin the season in Triple-A Durham. With Lobaton out of minor-league options, the Rays would risk losing a player at a position in which they have little organizational depth.

Fair or not, Gimenez isn't letting it faze him.

"Of course, I want to be on the team, and I feel like I've done enough to be on the team," Gimenez said. "But it's not my decision. It's completely out of your control. … Hopefully the decision goes in my favor, but if it doesn't, I'm not going to be (upset) about it."

The fact that Gimenez has an upbeat attitude is no surprise to anyone who knows the gregarious Gilroy, Calif., native. But his perspective stems from truly appreciating how far he has come, having re-invented his offensive game, and rejuvenated his career, following a humbling trip back to Durham last season.

"Honestly, it's kind of mind-blowing," Gimenez said. "It's amazing to think where, confidence-wise, and even playing-wise, where I've come."

Gimenez had played parts of three seasons in the majors when the Rays signed him to a minor-league deal last spring. He started at Durham, and after Lobaton got hurt in mid April, Gimenez got his chance. But he hit just .191, prompting his demotion May 28 when Lobaton was ready.

Gimenez was embarrassed, believing he was better than he showed.

"You had to look at yourself in the mirror, and be like, 'I'm hitting .190-something. I do not deserve to be there. I can't be mad. I did it to myself,' " he said. "It was a major soul search, and I had to do something different."

Gimenez decided to throw his swing "in the garbage," re-working it with Triple-A hitting coach Dave Myers. Always a pull hitter, he closed his stance, trusting his hands, with emphasis on going to the opposite field. With regular playing time, and less pressure, Gimenez built some consistency.

When he got called up in September, he stuck with it and hit .408 with a homer and five RBIs in 11 games, including a go-ahead single in a key win over the Yankees. "That was the biggest confidence booster, like, 'Okay, I can do this,' " Gimenez said. "I know I'm very capable of playing here."

Maddon said what Gimenez did at the end of last season carries more weight than any spring numbers, but he has still been impressed. Maddon also believes in Lobaton, giving him a confidence-boosting talk late last week, spurring his two-hit game Saturday, including a homer. "Awesome," Lobaton said. "It's been a long spring for me. It's been tough."

Maddon said both have done relatively well, but it's "a little bit more clear to us" who might be picked. Whatever happens, Gimenez is at peace.

"It's been a journey, that's for sure," Gimenez said. "But I'm hoping it's one of those stories that you can tell your kids someday. Like, you know what, I've been there, I've (stunk) more than anybody could have (stunk) — ever. And I've made the adjustments, and I was able to do it."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Rays catcher Gimenez has rebuilt swing, career 03/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, March 24, 2013 7:46pm]
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