Barajas finally catching on

Posted: May 03, 2007

ATLANTA - It was bound to happen: Starting catcher Rod Barajas finally started in consecutive games.

Barajas signed a contract worth a guaranteed $3 million with the understanding that he would at least split time with rookie Carlos Ruiz.

Barajas had a fine spring. He started Opening Day and Game 3. But he went a weak 4-for-28 in his first nine starts and found himself seeing one-third of the work - not what he had in mind when he signed the deal, which has clauses this season that would earn him an extra $250,000 if he starts 140 games. There is a $5 million Phillies option next season, with a $500,000 buyout.

Three things happened to change Barajas' fortunes.

First, headstrong veteran Freddy Garcia was unimpressive in his first three starts, all with Ruiz, so Barajas got the call last night.

Second, Barajas caught Cole Hamels' complete-game win in Cincinnati on April 21 and helped settle Hamels after a first-inning meltdown Tuesday, a game in which Hamels lasted 7 1/3 innings.

Finally, and mainly, Barajas got a clue at the plate. He entered last night 4-for-5 with two home runs and a double in his last two starts.

"I liked the way Barajas played [Tuesday] night," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I liked the way he handled the game. I liked him on [last night's Braves starter, Chuck James]."

He liked that Barajas finally found his strike zone. Barajas found it by reverting to old habits.

He hit a career-high .256 with 11 homers in 97 games with the Rangers last season, using a practice routine that stressed hitting off a tee. He hoped to build upon that success by incorporating the Phillies' soft-toss regimen, but Barajas abandoned it about a week ago - and started hitting.

Well-rested

Shane Victorino accepted his second straight day off with considerably more grace than he did his first.

Shane Victorino accepted his second straight day off with considerably more grace than he did his first.

Victorino was chapped Tuesday when righthanded hitter Jayson Werth started in rightfield in his place. Yesterday, after Manuel explained the reasons why he would sit again, Victorino's disappointment lacked the ire of the previous day.

"Everybody's got to rest, I guess. Helps you heal. Mentally, too," Victorino said.

Still, Victorino chafes at the supposition that because he is a high-energy, low-mass player - he's 5-9 and 180 - he needs frequent rest. Victorino was 3-for-28 in his last eight games entering last night.

The switch-hitting Victorino had 513 at-bats in 2005, but that's not his point. This is his first season as a full-time starter, and, with a .224 average against lefties, he's slipping into a platoon with Werth.

"Everybody's question is: 'Can he play every day?' " Victorino said. "I don't know what I have to do."

Hurtin'

The Braves placed backup catcher Brayan Pena (concussion) and 0-4 lefthanded pitcher Mark Redman (ingrown toenail; seriously) on the 15-day disabled list before last night's game.

The Braves placed backup catcher Brayan Pena (concussion) and 0-4 lefthanded pitcher Mark Redman (ingrown toenail; seriously) on the 15-day disabled list before last night's game.

Pena took a bat to the back of his head on Greg Dobbs' swing in the ninth inning. Pena had replaced Brian McCann, who left in the second with a bruised left ring finger after Barajas hit him in the glove hand and was awarded first base due to catcher's interference.

Top prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia started at catcher last night. Righthander Kevin Barry replaced Redman on the roster. *

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