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Navarro earning early praise from Blue Jays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The season is only four games old, but already the Blue Jays are singing the praises of veteran catcher Dioner Navarro.

Navarro was Toronto's only significant addition during an extremely quiet offseason. He signed a two-year contract as the club decided to part ways with last year's starter, J.P. Arencibia, who is now with the Rangers.

One of the hopes was that Navarro would be an upgrade offensively, but there's also been a noticeable difference in the way he has developed relationships with his pitching staff. A comfort level was developed during Spring Training, and has now carried over into the regular season.

"Even during Spring Training he came in with a real interest in learning the pitchers as fast as he could and I think it shows right now," pitching coach Pete Walker said the day after Mark Buehrle came within one out of a shutout vs Tampa Bay.

"He spent the spring getting a feel for these guys and I think the evidence was last night with Mark, I think they worked great together. He mixed his pitches tremendously, has a great feel behind the plate for making adjustments hitter to hitter, even pitch to pitch and I think that was evident last night."

From an outsider's perspective, it's often very difficult to measure the impact a catcher can have on his pitching staff. A catcher isn't going to all of a sudden going to turn a bad pitcher into an All-Star and vice-versa, but there are little things along the way that provide glimpses at a positive working relationship.

When a catcher isn't on the same page with his staff, it usually results in a lot of pitches being shaken off. There can be mixed signals and even the lack of confidence for a pitcher to throw a ball into the dirt with men on base. Just as important is the ability to come up with a cohesive pregame plan on how to approach an opposing lineup.

Navarro's impact seems to have been felt in all of those areas. Right fielder Jose Bautista was asked following Wednesday night's victory over the Rays whether a different tone was being set by his ballclub this year, after last season's disappointing early start. Even though the question had nothing to do with catching, that's where Bautista ended up taking it.

"I think it's too early, the sample size is too small so far, but I'll tell you what, I could really get used to the chemistry that I see between our catcher and our pitchers," Bautista said. "If they managed to keep that going for an extended period of time, we're going to have a lot of fun playing this year."

The belief in Navarro doesn't guarantee the Blue Jays pitching staff is going to have a lot of success this season, but it certainly can't hurt.

"Bottom line is the pitcher's got to make the pitch, but if they have confidence in what the catcher is throwing down, that's one of those little things where they have more conviction," manager John Gibbons said.

"Pitchers fight some guys, a lot of that is they may have had a bad game with somebody back there, that sticks with them. You can have two catchers doing the exact same thing but for some reason they get better results with one, it becomes a mental thing."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.
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