Catcher Navarro praised by Jays pitching staff

Toronto Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro, right, congratulates starting pitcher Mark Buehrle. Kathy Willens/AP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Jose Bautista says he likes the chemistry he’s seeing between Dioner Navarro and the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff, and he’s not the only praising the catcher for the way he’s handling the men on the bump.

Drew Hutchison and Mark Buehrle both credited him after their strong outings this week, while manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Pete Walker are also full of praise for the 30-year-old, signed to take over from the departed J.P. Arencibia.

“It’s a different feel behind the plate,” Walker said diplomatically Thursday. “In the past we’ve had some good catchers here, and he just brings a different element this year that I’ve enjoyed watching and working with so far.”

Walker pointed to Navarro’s pre-game preparation and game-planning, but also to the more touches he carries with him behind the plate.

“He’s very savvy back there, he’s definitely a guy that doesn’t get too overexcited about situations and has a good feel for his pitchers and can kind of keep them on an even keel,” said Walker. “He doesn’t go out of his way to talk too much in between innings and put a lot of thought in their heads. He has a good idea what he wants to do and he kind of keeps them calm.”

Bautista’s gotten that sense from right field. After Wednesday’s 3-0 win over the Rays, he said: “I could really get used to the chemistry that I see between our catcher and our pitchers. If they manage to keep that going for an extended period of time, we’re going to have a lot of fun playing this year.”

Gibbons pointed to the importance of the finer points in the relationship between pitcher and catcher that Navarro does well, calling his work so far, “tremendous.”

“He’s got a real good idea of what he’s doing back there,” said Gibbons. “The thing about game-calling and all that, everybody’s got their ideas on how you call a game, or how you pitch a certain guy, so there’s no necessarily right way or wrong way, you usually look at the results. But he’s got a good feel for what he’s doing. When you watch him call for certain pitches at certain times, you like it. With him, it goes with what I’m thinking a lot of the time, too.

“It’s not always easy when you get a new catcher coming in with a new staff, but it worked pretty good during spring training with those guys. That’s not always the case. You can get those guys shaking off, and little things hurt pitchers, they can’t find a rhythm because it’s always shaking. Those little things matter.”

TAKING IT SLOW: Casey Janssen said a long toss session at about 120 feet “went well” on Thursday but he’s being careful not to anger his innards.

The Toronto Blue Jays closer, on the disabled list with a strain above his left hip, says there’s no real timetable for when he might be able to get back on the mound and that the goal right now to is “to build gradually, increase my effort level each day.”

Asked if any injury remained in the affected area, Janssen replied: “I don’t know, I’m trying to not piss it off. It might if I do certain things, but I’m staying in that comfort level and I haven’t pissed it off. It could be completely gone but I haven’t tested it enough to know. I don’t think today is the day to test it.”

Janssen hit the DL on Sunday and is eligible for activation April 13, but it’s too early to know whether he’ll be ready by then or not. For now he’ll travel with the team back to Toronto for Friday’s home opener and continue working with the training staff.

“I want to get comfortable on flat ground, obviously, before I get on a mound and let it rip a little bit. One, you’ve got to make sure it’s healthy, and two, you’ve got to mentally trust it,” said Janssen.

“We’re just trying to work our way to a mound and see how I react to that. … We just want to do it once and do it right.”

SHALLOW vs DEEP IN CF: A study last year by fielding analytics guru John Dewan ranked Colby Rasmus fifth among centre-fielder’s in terms of playing shallow in the field.

Measuring the number of times a player needed to break back on balls as opposed to breaking in, his going back rate of 40 per cent tied Michael Saunders and Adam Jones, trailing only Denard Span and Ben Revere at 42 percent, and Dexter Fowler and David DeJesus at 41 percent.

The thinking in playing shallow is that the defender can snare bloopers, and the best fielders can still track back to chase down balls over their heads. Rasmus was able to snare two balls over his head in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Tampa, but had a ball sail past him in Tuesday’s 4-2 victory.

Thoughts, John Gibbons?

“It definitely takes away more of the cheap hits, it depends on who’s at the plate though,” he said. “If you’ve got some guy who’s got a little bit of juice, you don’t want to be too shallow. The ball gets over your head, if somebody’s on that’s a guaranteed run, it’s extra bases, if the ball drops in front of you it’s just a single, you still have the double play in order. We’ve talked to him.

“(Rasmus) comes in so well. Vernon (Wells) was the same way. We used to battle with Vernon, he’d go back probably as good as anybody you’re going to see, but he still liked to play deeper so a lot of those ball would drop in. But that was his comfort zone. They all have that comfort zone where they like to play.

“I think he comes in better, but it all depends on who’s at the plate, the situation, things like that.”

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