Barajas takes over behind plate for Dodgers

Rod Barajas understands his role as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top

catcher is more about what he does behind the plate than with his

bat.

Barajas has been in the majors 10 years and it hasn’t been

because of bat.

”My number one priority is working with the guys on the

mound,” Barajas said Saturday. ”Very early in my career, it was

pounded in my head that my job was to work with the pitchers. It

wasn’t what I did offensively.”

He’s a career .239 hitter, though with some power, but has made

only 43 errors in 6,950 innings and has earned a reputation is

solid handler of pitchers.

He played 74 games with the New York Mets before being acquired

by the Dodgers on Aug. 22, 2010. In his 25 games with the Dodgers

late last season, he showed them enough at the plate (hitting .297)

and behind it to earn him a 1-year, $3.25 million deal.

The Dodgers decided in the offseason that the veteran Barajas

was a better fit for the team than two-time All-Star Russell

Martin, who had been the Dodgers’ backstop since his rookie season

in 2006. Martin, now with the New York Yankees, played in a

career-low 96 games in 2010 after suffering a broken hip.

Aside from signing Barajas, the team also signed Dioner Navarro

to compete with A.J. Ellis for the two catching spots on the

roster.

Navarro, who was with the Dodgers in 2005-06, is a former

All-Star with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but has struggled the last

two seasons, playing in just 48 games last year.

”With Rod, I don’t think the position is up for grabs, but we

have a plan,” Mattingly said. ”My main concern is defense,

catching those pitchers. I feel the offense will come.”

The chance in Los Angeles has added meaning for Barajas, who

went to high school in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Fe

Springs.

”This is a childhood dream of mine, growing up in L.A.,” said

Barajas. ”I loved the Dodgers, so to finally get this opportunity

to put this uniform on for a full season and to help this club

reach its goal of winning a World Series, I’m excited.”

Barajas also is excited about the pitching staff he’s been

working with.

The team has five starters who won 10 or more games last season,

including a pair of young stars in Chad Billingsley and Clayton

Kershaw. Mix in veterans such as Jon Garland and Ted Lilly and

Hiroki Kuroda, and Barajas has a lot of talent at his disposal.

”If you are able to stay healthy and pitch, that is the key in

this division,” Barajas said. ”If you can pitch you can have

success and with the guys we have here, we can do something

special.”

NOTES: A larger-than-usual group of position players spent part

of Saturday’s workout with first base coach Davey Lopes. Matt Kemp,

Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Dee Gordon worked

with Lopes on base-running. Gordon, one of the Dodgers’ top

prospects, stole 53 bases last season in Triple A Chattanooga. High

winds and sporadic rain forced the pitchers to throw their bullpen

sessions in the covered cages. All of the teams’ projected starters

threw 40-pitch sessions. One of those starters, Hiroki Kuroda, is

working on adding a curveball and threw a few during his session.

”It looked great today and it’s something we’re going to work on

quite a bit in spring,” Barajas said of Kuroda’s curveball. ”His

ability to be able to throw that curveball is only going to make

him tougher.”