Rodriguez could serve as backup catcher
If Navarro gets suspended, utility man confident in his abilities
ST. PETERSBURG -- Prior to Saturday night's game against the Blue Jays, the Rays still had no word regarding whether catcher Dioner Navarro would be suspended or fined for bumping home-plate umpire Dan Bellino after getting ejected from Friday night's game.
Whether the bump was inadvertent or not, chances are Navarro will get suspended, which would make backup catcher John Jaso the starter. The big question is: Who would be Jaso's backup?
Rays manager Joe Maddon is sticking to what he told reporters Friday night -- that utility man Sean Rodriguez would assume the backup catching duties, which would keep Tampa Bay from having to make a move.
"I'm glad he said that," Rodriguez said. "I really want him to look to me."
Rodriguez didn't seem intimidated when asked about whether he would be ready to assume the duties as backup/emergency catcher should Navarro get suspended.
"Yeah, yeah, no hesitation," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez could not remember the last time he caught in a game, but he recently has caught Rafael Soriano and Lance Cormier during their bullpen sessions.
Bullpen/catching coach Bobby Ramos believes in Rodriguez's abilities.
"Just watching him catch those guys on the side, I would not have any problem with putting him back there if we need to," Ramos said. "He's got the ability to do it. He's got good hands. He's very aware of the position and the things he's supposed to do."
Rodriguez adheres to two simple beliefs for being able to catch.
"Can you get down low enough to give them a good target? And are you afraid?" Rodriguez said. "I'm not afraid and I feel like I can get down low enough."
Choate seems to be finding groove
ST. PETERSBURG -- Randy Choate's past three appearances have been scoreless, with the lefty allowing one hit and one walk while striking out three over 1 1/3 innings. In his previous three outings, he pitched two-thirds of an inning, allowing eight hits, seven earned runs and two home runs.
"I still kind of feel like I'm throwing through my sink," Choate said. "The last couple of years before this one, I've gone to winter ball. I think it's made a difference when my arm gets a little more tired. And I think a little bit early, I almost feel a little fresh, if that makes sense.
"It's different when you play two or three months of offseason baseball. So I'm trying to focus a little more on my mechanics, but I definitely felt better last night. There's still a couple [of times] where I have to just basically catch myself from trying not to throw too hard, because I feel so good physically. My arm feels fresh."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he was never concerned about Choate, who entered Saturday night's contest with a record of 0-1 and a 17.18 ERA.
"Some of those numbers are skewed because he was in a position that I normally would not put him in had a pitcher not gotten hurt," Maddon said.
Soriano rounding into form
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays closer Rafael Soriano posted his most dominant appearance of the season Friday night, when he retired the three hitters he faced in the ninth, striking out two.
Soriano is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA and has four saves in seven games, but most of those appearances, though successful, have been high-wire acts until Friday.
"What I saw was a really good slider last night," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He came out throwing some sliders. And they had some really bad swings at it, and then boom, here came the fastball.
"From my perspective, in my mind, it's about tempo and delivery. I'm seeing that more with Soriano -- a little bit more energy in his delivery. And I think because of that, everything is coming together better. The ball's a little quicker. The slider's a little sharper. And it's probably because he feels better stronger and physically. I have no concerns about him. ... He's been really productive to this point."
Pat Burrell did not play in Friday night's game and he was not in the lineup Saturday, a fact Rays manager Joe Maddon attributed to Burrell having a little stiffness in his upper back. Maddon expects Burrell to play Sunday afternoon. ... Dioner Navarro became a late scratch Saturday night due to soreness in his lower right leg. ... Carl Crawford entered Saturday's game having scored the second-most runs in the month of April since the 2008 season. Toronto's Vernon Wells ranks first with 51, while Crawford is second at 50. ... Autograph Sunday will take place from noon to 12:30 p.m. ET, with Ben Zobrist and Randy Choate signing autographs for kids 14 and under along the first-base line.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.