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Dodgers entering new era behind plate

Dodgers entering new era behind plate

Dodgers entering new era behind plate
PHOENIX -- With two All-Star appearances obscured by the two disappointing seasons that followed, Russell Martin has taken his gear to Yankee Stadium and the Dodgers are moving on behind the plate without him.

New manager Don Mattingly said Friday, "I like our catching situation -- honestly."

He said it shortly after meeting with A.J. Ellis, who thought he was in line for a Major League job until management re-signed Rod Barajas and reacquired Dioner Navarro, the former waived last summer by the Mets and the latter non-tendered in December by the Rays.

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As frustrated as the Dodgers were with Martin's offensive regression the past three years, Mattingly made clear what is priority one for his catchers.

"What I'm asking of all my catchers is to pay huge attention to the pitching staff," said Mattingly. "That's the main responsibility, and offense is second."

Mattingly indicated that Barajas will get the bulk of the playing time, with Navarro utilized in something less than a "straight platoon."

"Rod is the guy, but it's not like he'll play 145 games or anything like that," Mattingly said. "It's not a straight platoon at this point. I've asked Rod to get ready to play Opening Day. One thing I like about Rod is that not once in the dugout last year did he ask about an at-bat. He always went straight to the pitcher to talk about who was coming up the next inning."

Ellis is probably destined to another season as insurance, even though Mattingly told him that the organization views him as more than an insurance policy.

"To me, he's a big league player," said Mattingly. "I knew he was disappointed. I knew I'd be having this conversation with him. He understands."

Nonetheless, as soon as contract negotiations broke down with Martin over guaranteed salary, general manager Ned Colletti re-signed Barajas, who he claimed off waivers from the Mets after Martin broke his right hip last August. Barajas parlayed two solid months into a $3.25 million guaranteed contract, a huge raise from the $500,000 base and $900,000 bonus he received last year from the Mets after signing two weeks into Spring Training.

The switch-hitting Navarro, meanwhile, returned to the Dodgers in part because of Martin's departure, ironic in that Colletti traded away Navarro in 2006 because Martin had won the Dodgers' catching job after Navarro injured his wrist.

Navarro, now 27, had become an All-Star for Tampa Bay in 2008, but his average fell from .295 in '08 to .218 in '09, and things completely soured last year, when he was the Opening Day starter but was on the bench by May and in the Minors from late June until September callups.

"Dioner is at a crossroads," said Mattingly, who was a Yankees coach when Navarro came up through their farm system and reached the Major Leagues.

When the Rays left him off the postseason roster last season, Navarro left the team when asked to stick around in the event of an injury. Like Martin, Navarro was non-tendered. He signed a $1 million deal with the Dodgers and hopes to have a platform season for free agency after this year.

"I'm not the first to do that, and [I'm] pretty sure I won't be the last," he said of his reaction to being left off the playoff roster. "I don't want to get into it. I'm just happy to get this opportunity. I still have the ability to play at this level. I'm excited."

How excited Navarro will be if Barajas gets most of the playing time remains to be seen. Mattingly indicated that Barajas' age (35) will necessitate enough days off to keep Navarro sharp. In 25 games with the Dodgers last season, Barajas hit .297 with five homers in 64 at-bats to go with the 12 he hit for the Mets in 249 at-bats.

The Dodgers are the fifth team for Barajas since the 2006 season. But the native of Ontario, Ca., who now lives in Del Mar, said the move back to the West Coast couldn't have been better.

"It's been like a dream," he said. "I'm around the family [he has six children] and playing back home. It's cool looking around and seeing Davey [Lopes] and Steve Yeager and Rick Honeycutt, and all of the coaches that played with the Dodgers. Last year I didn't sign with the Mets until Feb. 24, and didn't know where I'd be. I like this a lot better."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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