Tampa Bay Rays' Dioner Navarro excited to re-enter lineup

ATLANTA — C Dioner Navarro was eager Thursday to make his first start since June 9.

"It's been a while," he said before going 1-for-2 with a single, strikeout and walk vs. the Braves.

Navarro, whose playing time has dwindled with the emergence of rookie John Jaso, has also battled a stiff neck this past week. But he felt good after a pinch-hit double Wednesday, saying, "It's been a while since I hit a ball like that."

Though Jaso and Kelly Shoppach will get most of the starts at catcher, manager Joe Maddon said he wants to get Navarro more involved.

"I'm always going to stay ready," Navarro said. "I've been doing my thing, trying to do whatever I can do to get back in there and help the team. It's kind of an awkward situation, the one we're in right now. But they know what they're doing, they know what's best."

Navarro said he has changed his routine because he's not playing as often, spending more time lifting weights and hitting more.

"The hardest part is going from playing every day and all of a sudden platooning," he said. "But that's the business, that's what it takes."

FOR SHORT: As expected, Maddon did not start SS Jason Bartlett on Thursday, part of easing him into his everyday role after coming off the disabled list (strained right hamstring). He pinch-hit in the eighth and struck out looking. Maddon said Bartlett will play today and Saturday against the Marlins but is unsure about Sunday.

Bartlett said he felt good after Wednesday's start and quipped that he had some "butterflies" in the beginning after not playing in the majors for a few weeks.

Bartlett said he understands Maddon's rationale for not pushing him too fast. "I haven't played nine innings in a couple weeks, so it's not just injury, but the legs probably aren't like they should be," Bartlett said.

ONE MORE TIME: RHP Matt Garza, coming off a victory Saturday against the Marlins, said facing the same team in back-to-back outings can be like a "chess game." He acknowledged how tough Florida's lineup can be.

"They're not the Marlins of old, where it's like, 'Okay, they've got one or two good hitters.' Now they've got some good young guys, too," Garza said. "It's a dangerous lineup. You've got to be careful with them."

Garza was encouraged by his last start, when he gave up four runs over 52/3 innings, saying, "My breaking stuff was coming back, and my fastball was where I wanted it to be."

HOT CORNER: Braves manager Bobby Cox said he had read a lot about 3B Evan Longoria, and after facing him for the first time this week, he left impressed. "I like him, he plays really loose," Cox said. "Very talented kid. He moves so easily. He's light."

AKI's Exit: Bartlett said he planned to reach out to former Rays double-play partner Akinori Iwamura, who was designated for assignment by the Pirates on Wednesday after hitting .182.

"I'm sure he's going to land on his feet and still be a very productive major-league player," Maddon said.

Pirates president Frank Coonelly said Thursday that his team didn't ask Iwamura to have a physical before trading for him last year, even though the second baseman was coming off left knee surgery. Coonelly said scouting reports after Iwamura resumed playing were positive.

MISCELLANY: The game was delayed by 25 minutes because of rain. … With two walks Thursday, LF Carl Crawford has now walked twice in three consecutive games. Wednesday night marked the first time in his 1,144-game career he had two or more walks in back-to-back games since May 22-23, 2004. … The Rays officially announced the signing of second-round pick RHP Jacob Thompson, as well as six others: RHP Austin Hubbard (14th round), LHP Adam Liberatore (21st), OF Chris Winder (27th), INF Steven Tinoco (34th), LHP Robert Dickman (36th) and LHP Chris Rearick (41st).

Tampa Bay Rays' Dioner Navarro excited to re-enter lineup 06/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 18, 2010 12:56am]

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