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NAVARRO'S WORK PAYS OFF

Rays catcher Dioner Navarro is enjoying an All-Star season, a big turnaround from last year.

For Dioner Navarro, rest can wait.

The Rays catcher, who battled hamstring soreness late in the season, has gutted through games as the calendar flipped into October. If Navarro still has aches, he's not showing it.

"There's no pain in the playoffs," Navarro said. "Once you cross those two white lines, every pain is gone. I feel pretty good."

Navarro's play has been even better. Through the American League Division Series, he hit .400 with six hits and three RBIs. With primary backup catcher Shawn Riggans still rehabbing after right knee surgery, Navarro has started 10 of the past 12 games and had hits in nine of them.

"There's no word that can really describe his play this year, other than extraordinary," Riggans said. "Before he was sort of getting a bad rap, he didn't have all his health. This year, he's been healthy, banged up with a leg thing a little. ... He's probably the most clutch player we have."

Navarro said he's simply carrying over the confidence he gained late last season, when he overcame first-half struggles. His rigorous offseason conditioning program put him in better shape entering spring training, when he said he started to take more ownership of the staff.

Navarro, known more for his offense as a prospect in the Yankees and Dodgers organizations, said he realized in the offseason that "this was going to be my pitching staff, and I needed to carry it through the entire season." What resulted is an All-Star season for Navarro, and the second-best staff ERA (3.82) in the American League.

Navarro was better defensively, ranking second in the AL in catching basestealers (35.7 percent) and was more assertive with his pitchers (remember his heated dugout confrontation with Matt Garza in Texas?). He knew more about his pitchers' stuff and opposing hitters' strengths, sparking more trust.

Right-hander Andy Sonnanstine said he rarely shook Navarro off, putting the game in the 24-year-old catcher's hands. Reliever J.P. Howell said Navarro "will make you look at what the situation is at-face. He doesn't sugarcoat it."

"He's gotten us here, he's carried this entire staff on his back," Garza said. "There's nothing else you can say about it. We have a lot of trust and a lot of love for that guy."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

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