New catcher Barajas brings experience, pitch-calling savvy
Rod Barajas credits the years spent with pitcher Curt Schilling with Arizona as an important step in his development as a catcher.
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- When the Pirates signed catcher Rod Barajas in the offseason, the organization's pitchers did some research.
They talked to others who played with him, and all came away with a similar impression: He possesses great skill in handling a pitching staff. No surprise, considering how he learned to do so.
"I think the biggest influence on my preparation, game-calling, getting to know hitters, was probably from Curt Schilling," Barajas said.
Barajas and Schilling, the 20-year veteran and six-time All-Star selection, played for the Arizona Diamondbacks together from 2000-03 and won the World Series in '01.
"When the games would be going on, he'd be up there and I'd be sitting next to him," Barajas said Wednesday. "He'd call me, say, 'Hey, come over here and sit next to me.' So we'd sit here and we'd talk baseball and we'd go over pitch-calling and how to set guys up and how to deal with certain pitchers and emotions.
"He really set the groundwork for me. Ever since I got all that information from him, I've been able to make it my own and help work with pitchers."
Barajas appeared in two games in that series and started Game 5 in place of Damian Miller. He went 2 for 5 with a home run off New York Yankees starter Mike Mussina.
Forming a battery with Schilling, he said, helped him learn to read and react to his pitchers.
"When he was on the mound, he was focused," Barajas said. "Seeing a guy that intense and able to take control of his emotions in these big games definitely made you open your eyes a little bit. You're like, wow, this guy, he knows what he needs to do to be successful. [After] watching him, I can see different emotions out of players, when guys are too high, too low. I'll try to right them and get them going in the right direction."
Entering the 14th season of his career, the 36-year-old Barajas said the lessons stuck.
"You're going to have days where you strike out two or three times, but you can't show that emotion, even in the dugout after you strike out, because the last thing you want is pitchers thinking that your mind's not there or you're not focused on your job behind the plate," he said.
Barajas signed a one-year, $4 million contract with a $3.5 million club option for 2013. He will replace Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, whose options the Pirates declined to exercise after the '11 season.
"He's going to solidify us defensively up the middle and he's also going to bring some barrel, a bat that can be productive," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He still feels there's things in front of him to accomplish."
Barajas adds power -- he hit at least 16 home runs in each of the past three seasons -- but has a low average and on-base percentage. Over the past three seasons, he hit .231 with a .275 on-base percentage.
"Offensively, I definitely want to get the average up, drive in runners in scoring position, all aspects of the offense," he said. "Last couple years, the throwing percentage has been down a little bit. I want to get back to where I used to be."
Barajas has thrown out 31 percent of would-be base-stealers in his career, including 40 percent in '03 and 37 percent in '07. In '10 and '11, however, that number dropped to 15 and 25 percent.
Most important, he will add experience and offer advice to a staff that became more experienced with the additions of Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett in the offseason, but also includes pitchers still looking for their identities.
"He's caught in a number of different venues," Hurdle said. "He's caught in pitching-rich organizations. He's been a go-to guy for certain pitchers that have had success in the league."
That experience, compatibility with his pitchers and his defense made him an attractive player when the Pirates searched for a catcher this offseason.
"We brought in some veteran stabilizers up the middle in Barmes and Barajas," general manager Neal Huntington said. "There was an intent behind that.
"Most importantly was players that can still play. Players who were going to impact on the field as much as they impacted off the field. But we're looking for guys with a combination of both and we feel like we were able to do that."
Charlie Morton threw a bullpen session Wednesday and said he continued to feel good.
Morton, who had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, said this was the second bullpen session where he threw breaking pitches in addition to fastballs.
"It's breaking well," he said of his curveball. "I think normally I would have gotten more side [sessions] in, previous to coming here, where it would have just been fastballs."
First Published February 23, 2012 12:00 am