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Tampa Bay Rays have plan to juggle three catchers

ARLINGTON, Texas — So now that the Rays have three catchers, they have to figure out what to do with them.

Manager Joe Maddon said Friday that his initial plan is to platoon left-handed-hitting rookie John Jaso and righty-swinging Kelly Shoppach, with Dioner Navarro serving primarily as a defensive replacement, especially until Maddon gets a sense of how much Shoppach can handle in his return from April 19 right-knee surgery. (Friday, Shoppach came out after 6½ innings.)

"Primarily, you're going to see probably a lot of starts out of Shop and Jaso, and you're going to see Navi filter in there some, probably defensively, and then kind of like a caddy in a sense to Shop right now," Maddon said. "Although we'll see how Shop does, to being pushed these number of innings; it may alter what we can or cannot do with him."

Maddon will consider Jaso and Shoppach for pinch-hit duty (including for each other if a team changes pitchers) and possible use as a DH. And he lavished praise on Navarro's work behind the plate, saying he is "really playing well" in noting his game-calling, pitch-blocking and throwing.

"We've got a nice problem right now," Maddon said. "We've got three really good catchers working for us right now. … They're all going to be utilized."

SHOP TALK: Shoppach was scheduled to stay on his rehab assignment at Triple-A Durham through Sunday. He played four games — two at DH, two catching, working five and seven innings — and went 4-for-13.

But Thursday afternoon the Rays asked him if he could handle catching nine innings. When he said yes — "I was like, yeah, I don't see why not, so let's go" — the decision was made to bring him back early.

Shoppach, acquired from Cleveland in the offseason, played in just four games before being injured April 10. He was in the starting lineup against LHP C.J. Wilson, going 1-for-2, and may start Sunday also.

"With Shop, he was really, really close, so it just made sense for right now to go that direction," Maddon said.

BART BUSINESS: SS Jason Bartlett (strained right hamstring) said he was disappointed to end up on the DL for the third straight season, but he understood the team's decision and expects to "definitely" be ready when eligible to return June 15 at Atlanta.

"It's getting better, but by no means could I go out there and play my game right now, play every day," Bartlett said. "I'd rather get healthy than go out there and try to play with it."

PRICE CHECK: There wouldn't be a lot of reasons to compare potential future ace LHP David Price to LHP Wilson Alvarez, who was one of the biggest flops in Rays history, winning just 17 games during his five-year, $35 million contract.

But this isn't bad: Price woke up Friday leading the American League in wins (eight) and ERA (2.29), making him, at 24, the youngest pitcher to lead either league in both this late into a season since Alvarez did in 1993 as a 23-year-old for the White Sox.

MISCELLANY: Analyst Kevin Kennedy works primarily home and West Coast (his home) games for Rays TV, but today's game was picked up as the Fox network game, so he is coming in to be in the booth with Dick Stockton. … Ex-Ranger Hank Blalock, who pinch-hit and made his first career outfield appearance, will start today.

Tampa Bay Rays have plan to juggle three catchers 06/04/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 5, 2010 12:42am]
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