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Tampa Bay Rays rookie catcher John Jaso has big game with homer, key block

ST. PETERSBURG — For a guy who wasn't even scheduled to play Saturday, rookie C John Jaso had quite the memorable night against the Blue Jays.

Jaso was a late addition to the lineup when C Dioner Navarro was scratched due to soreness in his lower right leg.

All Jaso, 26, did was hit his first career homer, score in the Rays' wild seven-run eighth-inning rally and come up with one of the game's biggest defensive plays.

There was his home run, a two-run shot in the fifth on the first pitch from LHP Ricky Romero that gave the Rays a 2-1 lead. "That was the first; hopefully there's more to follow," Jaso said, smiling.

But what stood out to manager Joe Maddon was Jaso's big block on a Dan Wheeler curveball in the dirt to Alex Gonzalez in the eighth. The play came with runners on first and third and the Rays down one run. Wheeler ended up striking out Gonzalez, and Tampa Bay ended up winning the game.

"It's unbelievable," Wheeler said of Jaso's block. "As a pitcher, you've got to have confidence in your catcher to put the ball down there, try to get a guy fishing."

Maddon has raved about how Jaso has transformed himself defensively since spring training, making the Rays comfortable in having him as the backup catcher with C Kelly Shoppach on the disabled list. Jaso may get more opportunities to play, especially if Navarro gets disciplined by Major League Baseball for making contact with home-plate umpire Dan Bellino after a Friday night ejection.

CATCHING UP: In an effort to show his versatility, Sean Rodriguez told the Rays this spring he'd be willing to play nearly every position, including catcher.

Turns out, if the Rays are in a pinch, he may get his wish.

Maddon has said they are comfortable using Rodriguez as their emergency catcher behind Jaso, if Navarro is unavailable. Rodriguez, who has been working with bullpen coach Bobby Ramos, said he's ready for the challenge.

"Granted, a lot of times when something like that happens, the (emergency catcher) never really gets in," Rodriguez said. "But sometimes, it can happen. If I get in there, I have no problem with that."

Rodriguez said he got experience catching during the summer after his junior year in high school. He said the biggest adjustment would be working with the pitchers on calling the game.

"(Ramos) said he can catch a full game right now," Maddon said. "He feels that comfortable with him."

BOUNCE BACK: After a rough first week of the season, LHP Randy Choate appears to have regained his form. Choate, who saw his ERA jump to 27.00 after giving up seven runs over three mid-April appearances, has four straight scoreless outings. That includes Saturday's bases-loaded strikeout of Fred Lewis in the seventh.

He said Maddon has put him in situations to be successful, which has boosted his confidence, and he has been more comfortable and effective with his slider.

"I think he's getting back to where he should be, and I have all the confidence in the world in him," Maddon said.

MEDICAL MATTERS: DH Pat Burrell wasn't in the lineup for the second straight night against a left-handed pitcher, and Maddon said it was due to stiffness in his upper back. Maddon said Burrell could be back in the lineup today against the Jays.

MISCELLANY: LHP Jake McGee will miss Monday's start for Double-A Montgomery due to knee pain he experienced in his last outing, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. … Ben Zobrist and Choate will sign autographs today for kids 14 and under along the first-base line from noon to 12:30 p.m.

Tampa Bay Rays rookie catcher John Jaso has big game with homer, key block 04/25/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 25, 2010 12:31am]

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