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Rays' Rene Rivera frustrated as playing time diminishes

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Rene Rivera (44) scores on a sacrifice by left fielder David DeJesus (7) to tie it at 1 in the sixth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, July 10, 2015.
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Rene Rivera (44) scores on a sacrifice by left fielder David DeJesus (7) to tie it at 1 in the sixth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, July 10, 2015.
Published Sep. 22, 2015

BOSTON — At the least, Rene Rivera always had Chris Archer.

Even after his miserable first half of the season cost him the starting catcher's job that the Rays handed him after his December acquisition from San Diego, Rivera could at least count on being in the lineup when the All-Star ace was on the mound.

But Monday, the Rays took that away from Rivera, too. Though he had caught Archer's previous 17 starts, and 24 of his 31, Rivera was on the bench and may stay there the rest of the season.

Manager Kevin Cash said they wanted to see J.P. Arencibia, the veteran who has been impressive since his late August call-up, work with Archer and plan to give rookie Luke Maile a similar opportunity, likely this weekend in Toronto.

All of which has left Rivera unhappy about the present — "It (stinks)" — and uncertain about his future with the team.

"My opinion, my feeling, is that they're probably not thinking about me for next year,'' Rivera said. "That's a good question for you to ask them.''

The Rays aren't ready to talk publicly about next year, but Rivera may be on to something. Between Curt Casali, who was impressive before straining his hamstring and is close to a return, Arencibia and Maile, they have other viable options.

Rivera, 32, is arbitration eligible and with a small raise that seems likely to come with it could make around $1.5 million next season. Unless a trade develops, which would seem unlikely, Rivera probably would at least be in the spring competition.

"In this final stretch, we have an opportunity to learn about players whose major-league opportunities have been limited to date," baseball operations president Matt Silverman said Monday. "The more knowledge we gain, the better informed we will be as we approach the offseason."

Clearly, it is Rivera's own fault that he is in such a predicament based on the way he has played. His work behind the plate has been good, but not great. His 37.3 caught stealing rate ranks second in the majors, though he has made an AL-high 11 errors and has five passed balls.

But his offense has been abysmal. Even in the context of Rays catchers, which is a pretty low bar.

Rivera's .493 on-base plus slugging percentage is the lowest of all 133 American League players with at least 300 plate appearances. (And also lower than 2012-14 Jose Molina.) His .180 average is the second worst. His 26 RBIs are tied for sixth fewest.

But Rivera feels the Rays gave him only half a chance — that they should have given him more time to get straightened out.

"I feel like if you are going to give the opportunity to a guy, you should stick with him and help him get through slumps," Rivera said. "The first half I played a lot and I didn't do right as a hitter. But I feel like the second half would be better, and I didn't have the chance to do it."

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But Cash made it sound like they felt they had given him plenty of opportunity.

"For what he did last year when we acquired Rene, we were obviously very excited for good reasons," Cash said. "He's done a very good job handling the pitching staff and eliminating the running game, no doubt. He got off to a rough start offensively and never could quite get back on track.

"Believe me, nobody worked harder and grinded it out more than him, but sometimes it's just not going to happen. Rene knows, we know he's a better offensive player than what he's shown this year.''

Actually, the Rays have to take some of the blame in apparently overestimating what Rivera could do.

He was a career journeyman who had never done much in the majors, hitting .206 in 121 games over five seasons, with a five-year gap in the middle, until breaking through last season with San Diego, hitting .252 with 11 homers, 44 RBIs and a .751 OPS in 103 games. From that base, they annointed him their starter.

As hurt and frustrated and disappointed as Rivera is in this season, his confidence, somehow, remains undaunted.

"I've got confidence in myself and I know I'm one of the best catchers out there," Rivera said. "I know I can put up better numbers than I've put up right now. I know I can go out there and perform at a higher level. So that's one thing nobody is going to take away from me."

For now, that's about all he has left.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.