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Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro knows that injuries come with the job

FORT MYERS — Balancing gingerly on his good right leg early Sunday morning in the Charlotte Sports Park clubhouse, crutches leaning against his locker, Dioner Navarro said that no matter how bad it looked to see him writhing on the field Saturday, it was worse from his perspective.

"I saw my whole season passing through my mind at that moment," Navarro said.

Though still in obvious discomfort from what is being called a bruise of the peroneal nerve in his left shin, the Rays catcher was also in better spirits, confident he'll return in about a week from the latest in his string of odd, or at least unusual, injuries.

"The weird stuff," Navarro said.

There were the fingers he sliced on the dugout netting at old Yankee Stadium in April 2008, landing him on the DL. A pitch that bounced and struck his throat in June 2007, sending him to a South Florida hospital strapped to a backboard. An awkward collision a month later with Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, resulting in a trip to a Boston hospital. A foul ball off the jaw last July, leading to another hospital visit.

"Some awkward stuff," manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't know, it just happens to certain guys at different times."

During the offseason, Navarro had surgery to stabilize the ulnar nerve in his left elbow. This spring, he'd already missed time with a left thumb bruise after being hit by an errant pickoff throw. Plus, he was in a July 2006 accident when his sport utility vehicle was hit and flipped twice.

"Always something," bench coach Dave Martinez joked. "We've got to put him in a bubble."

The painful truth is that injuries are part of the job. Navarro's just tend to appear a bit more dramatic.

Saturday, after the home-plate collision with Minnesota's Jacque Jones, Navarro was not only in pain but alarmed that his leg had gone numb, leading to an extensive emotional reaction that had most observers assuming he had sustained a significant injury.

Sunday, Navarro admitted he panicked.

"I felt like I was helpless," Navarro said. "I was trying to do everything I could and I just couldn't move my leg; that's why I panicked. … The adrenaline, everyone coming out, that kind of played a role in it."

The Rays are learning that tends to be the case.

"He always reacts a little bit, as you see," bullpen coach Bobby Ramos said.

Despite the frequency of the incidents, Navarro usually gets back in the lineup quickly. "One thing about him, he bounces back really well," Ramos said. "So he doesn't miss too many games because of that."

Navarro, whose wife, Sherley, and son, Dioner Jr., have gone through severe medical issues, has grown to not be surprised, or staggered, by any of his injury issues, understanding it is as much part of the job as his chest protector and shin guards.

"You're gonna have stuff happen," said Maddon, who also toiled behind the plate. "It's rare that a catcher ever goes out there and plays and says, 'God, I feel great.' It just doesn't work that way.

"You're gonna have the foul tip from two days ago still gonna be lingering. Whether it's a bruise on your inner thigh, or the foul tip on your shoulder, or your knee is a little ratty today. You're never going to be 100 percent. Never. It's one of the occupational hazards. Navi understands that."

Maybe better than most given the cloud that seems to be following him, enough that Navarro joked he might move to Arizona.

"It's part of my livelihood," he said. "It's just part of being a catcher. You've got to deal with it. That's the price you have to pay."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro knows that injuries come with the job 03/21/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 22, 2010 12:17am]

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