Barajas making the most of playing time
With Zaun injured, backup backstop making his presence felt
NEW YORK -- Considering the way Rod Barajas has played lately for the Blue Jays, manager John Gibbons could soon be faced with a tough decision. Barajas has been doing his best to convince Toronto that he might deserve a shot at the starting job behind the plate.
The only issue is that the primary catching duties belong to veteran Gregg Zaun, who is currently nursing a right elbow injury and on the disabled list. Barajas has proved to be more than a capable replacement, providing some welcome pop to the Jays' lineup in recent weeks.
Zaun is eligible to be activated on June 11, at which point Gibbons will likely toy with the idea of keeping Barajas in the lineup on a more regular basis. For now, Gibbons has declined to speculate on the situation, and Barajas said that his focus hasn't been on capturing the starting job.
"That's not what I'm thinking about," Barajas said. "I'm thinking about just doing well, helping this team win. I'm not the one who has the final say. All I can do is go out there and play and try to do whatever I can to be successful.
"Would I like to play more? Absolutely," he continued. "Any of the guys who are on the bench, if you ask them if they'd like to play more, they're going to say, 'Yes.' But it's not our decision.
"Gibby makes up the lineup, and I'm just going to do my best whenever I'm in there. Hopefully, it'll be more often than not."
Barajas' name has been in the lineup for every game since Zaun was sidelined with inflammation in his throwing arm on May 28. Entering Wednesday, Barajas was riding a six-game hitting streak, had at least one RBI in each of his past five games and had seven extra-base hits among his last eight hits.
Dating back to May 3, he has posted a .390 average, a .438 on-base percentage and a .712 slugging percentage to go along with four home runs, seven doubles, 12 runs scored and 16 RBIs in 18 games. Along the way, he's upped his season average to .303 from .175.
"If you look back at the years I've had success," he said, "it's when I have had that regular playing time, staying in there. When you're in a rhythm, you love playing that next day instead of having to wait two or three days to get back in the box."
For the season, even with fewer at-bats that Zaun, Barajas has been the better performer in most offensive areas. The 37-year-old Zaun has hit .264 with two homers, six doubles, eight RBIs, 13 runs, a .350 on-base percentage and a .360 slugging percentage in 125 at-bats over 41 games.
Barajas, 32, who was signed to a one-year deal in January, has hit .303 with five homers, nine doubles, 19 RBIs, 14 runs, a .361 on-base percentage and a .545 slugging percentage in 99 at-bats across 33 games entering Wednesday. He is quick to credit the newfound playing time for his improved numbers.
"You get into a routine that feels good to you," said Barajas, whose contract includes a $2.5 million club option for 2009. "I haven't been in that routine for about a year and a half now. Now, being back in it is pretty fun."
Offense aside, rare is the Blue Jays pitcher who doesn't applaud Barajas' work behind the plate. After his start against the Yankees on Tuesday night, ace Roy Halladay praised Barajas' ability to recognize what is and isn't working early in a game and making adjustments on the fly.
"Gregg has done the same thing," Halladay said, "but it's nice when you have a catcher who realizes early on if one pitch isn't as good as the other, to recognize that and start going to the strengths. I think that's important for a catcher, and [Barajas] does a good job of doing that."
Barajas is just trying to enjoy his time in the lineup as Toronto's starting catcher for as long as it lasts.
"It's great," he said. "Going out there and playing every day, working with the best pitching staff in baseball, it's a lot of fun. To be able to be a help offensively is kind of the icing on the cake."
Barajas exited Wednesday's game against the Yankees in the sixth inning because of tightness in his lower back. He said that he felt some stiffness prior to the game and decided it was best to leave early to undergo treatment, with the hope that he'll be cleared to play on Thursday.
"His back just tightened up on him," said Gibbons following Toronto's 5-1 loss to New York. "Hopefully, it's not much. We'll know a little bit more in the morning. We'll see. Hopefully, he can go."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.