This time last year, C Dioner Navarro was eyeing his first All-Star appearance while enjoying one of the best offensive seasons of any Rays catcher.
There won't be a return trip this year, but Navarro, who is hitting .214, hopes the three-day All-Star break may be something that gets him "back on track" after his first-half struggles.
"That's what happened in '07," Navarro said.
Navarro made a huge second-half turnaround in 2007, rebounding after hitting .177 before the break to boast the third-best average (.285) of any AL catcher in the months that followed, a springboard to his breakout 2008 season.
To Navarro, he has done it before; he can do it again. And, as Navarro explains, this year's slump is different from 2007's, in a good way.
"In '07, when I was struggling bad, I was feeling bad," Navarro said. "This year, it's been more up and down. This year I've had my games where I feel great and hit the ball hard, right at people.
"In '07, when stuff started going down, I started changing things. But I'm sticking to it, and I know it's going to change." He smiled and said, "I'm not that bad of a player, so we know it's there."
Navarro has shown some flashes, as on Saturday, when he had a double and a three-run homer, his first RBI and multi-hit game in 11 games. But he still entered Sunday's game hitting .182 with runners in scoring position, the lowest of any Rays regular.
"Navi hangs in there really well; he accepts constructive criticism very well," manager Joe Maddon said. "You saw what he did last year, so you know he's capable of it. He's got off to the tough start, and the sad part in a sense is that you look at him physically, he's in better shape than he's ever been, and his work has been excellent. It's just not happening for him right now.
"He's done it before; he can do it again. I really anticipate a good second half out of him."
Trop turnaround: The Rays, remembering how they lost seven straight games heading into last year's All-Star break, would like to use this six-game homestand, starting tonight against the Blue Jays, as a way to climb the standings. Tampa Bay has won five straight at home and 10 of its past 11 and has the majors' best home record since April 20 (24-8).
"We definitely want to try and make up some ground" at home, LF Carl Crawford said. "Last year we lost seven straight. It would be nice to have a winning record at home, and that way, going into the second half we can have some momentum going."
Stick to it: RHP James Shields has dealt with his share of hard-luck outings. He boasts a staff-high 10 quality starts, but his offense hasn't always backed him up, scoring 2.71 runs per game in his starts.
But Shields said he feels good, his mechanics are fine and he plans to just keep doing what he's doing. And the Rays are glad he'll make two starts this homestand at Tropicana Field, where he has fared well.
"Obviously he's always done a nice job back" at home, Maddon said. "He'll get Toronto again, and Oakland. I do like the idea of Shieldsy pitching twice at home."
Latin signings: The Rays have signed a pair of Venezuelan prospects, 3B Cesar Perez and SS Juniel Querecuto, according to Baseball America.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]