White Sox counting on vet catchers Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — After Dioner Navarro explained how he caught John Danks tipping pitches — and helped him fix it — someone asked the White Sox catcher when he was going to proposition his bosses for a raise.
“Once the season starts and I start putting up numbers,” he joked, “then I ask for more.”
The 32-year-old is playing under a $4 million on a one-year contract. His catching platoon-mate, 29-year-old Alex Avila, is collecting $2.5 million on his one-year deal.
Neither contract is unusual — but both are.
The value of a veteran catcher typically lies in his ability to mentor a younger backstop breaking into the big leagues. The White Sox don’t have one of those.
Instead, they’re hoping two experienced catchers are better than one.
Navarro showed some of that savvy three Danks starts ago, when he noticed his glove was positioned differently for certain pitches.
“I pick up little things like this, I pick up little things like that,” Navarro said. “We’re just trying to relay our message to our guys. We’re here together. We have to pull from the same side of the rope. And that’s what eventually is going to happen.”
The tweak happens more often in spring that you’d think, Navarro said, and is oftentimes a result of keen eye sharpened by years of experience.
“I think when you’re 20, you’re not thinking about that type of stuff,” Avila said. “You’re trying to make the team, trying to make an impression, so you’re not really looking at those types of things.”
Sometimes, Avila said, giving pitchers a different perspective is beneficial.
It must feel odd to Chris Sale, though; the ace threw every single pitch of 2014 and 2015 to Tyler Flowers.
The White Sox non-tendered Flowers, considered a good pitch-framer, in December to search for an offensive boost.
“I’ve said it before: if we signed a high school guy to go catch, it would probably be a mission,” Sale said Thursday after allowing four earned runs on eight hits in six innings. “But these guys are great. They know what they’re doing. They fit in well here.”
Between innings, Avila and Sale huddled about pitch type and location, but also to mechanics.
“We are just bouncing ideas off of each other, and just trying to build that relationship, and have them have their cues for me,” Sale said. “Shoulder, front side, whatever it is. We are working towards that, and it has been great.”
Both catchers spoke with pitching coach Don Cooper and watched film during the offseason to grow familiar with the staff. Manager Robin Ventura praised their willingness to catch anyone, anywhere — “The ‘A’ field, the ‘B’ field, parking lot,” he said — during the transition.
“We are trying to make sure they see everybody,” Ventura said.
They likely won’t be offensive juggernauts, but they’ll be an improvement from Flowers, who struck out an amazing 34.8 percent of the time during his career. Navarro showed pop with the Blue Jays last year, hitting .246 with five homers and 20 RBIs in 171 at-bats. Playing for the Tigers — who named his dad Al their GM in August — Avila struggled last year, hitting .191 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 219 at-bats. He lost his starting job.
“Change can be good sometimes,” Avila said. “It can be difficult, but it can be good. I think one of the reasons why we were both brought in to kinda bring that different dynamic, that different mentality.
“This staff was pretty good last year. If they can be just as good and we bring whatever me and Dioner can bring as far as experience, maybe that correlates into a few extra more wins.
“I think that’s the idea, and I think we can make that happen.”
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