Navarro to begin season on DL with oblique tear

Navarro to begin season on DL with oblique tear

TUCSON, Ariz. -- An MRI confirmed that Dodgers backup catcher Dioner Navarro has a torn right oblique muscle that manager Don Mattingly said he is "assuming" will require a one-month recovery.

That leaves the Dodgers with six days to decide whether A.J. Ellis or Hector Gimenez will make the Opening Day roster as the backup to starter Rod Barajas.

Gimenez has the inside track because Ellis has an option left and Gimenez does not.

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The Dodgers had been trying to find a bench role for Gimenez because of his switch-hitting bat. But as a backup catcher, defensive skills become a higher priority, as Mattingly indicated before Friday's benefit game with the D-backs.

"A.J. has the experience with our pitchers, he studies and he's a defender -- all the things we want from our catching corps," said Mattingly. "Hector swings the bat, but he hasn't caught that much down here. A.J. showed promise last year with the bat. He hasn't swung the bat here [until Thursday's walk-off homer], but he hasn't had the chance to get into a groove. We'll see. We're talking about different scenarios."

One might be that both make the team, although that seems a long shot. A key factor is that the Dodgers have an option left on Ellis and none on Gimenez, who is a 10-year Minor Leaguer with two career Major League at-bats. The Dodgers could send Ellis to Triple-A without risking losing him, but they are concerned they would lose Gimenez if they try that with him.

The Dodgers now figure to start the season with four players on the disabled list -- Navarro, Casey Blake, Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland.

Gimenez, once a promising catching prospect with Houston, had his career derailed in 2007 by right shoulder surgery. He is hitting .289 with three homers and seven RBIs this spring, Ellis is hitting .138 with one homer.

Ellis played in 44 games for the Dodgers last year, batting .278, but his path was blocked by the signings of Barajas and Navarro after the Dodgers non-tendered last year's starter, Russell Martin. Gimenez has caught only 25 innings this spring, compared to 76 for Ellis.

Navarro is in his second stint with the Dodgers, after signing a one-year, $1 million contract to back up Barajas. He was non-tendered in December by Tampa Bay, where he was an All-Star in 2008 with a .295 average. But that plunged to .218 in '09 and .194 last season, when he was left off the postseason roster and went home.

Navarro suffered the oblique injury in batting practice Thursday. He has not been on the disabled list since 2008.

The oblique strain is the Dodgers' second this spring. Fifth starter Garland has been out since March 9 with a side strain suffered while pitching, and he is close to returning to the mound.

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