Tucson Padres: Rivera's got the stats, but now he sits

2013-06-01T00:00:00Z Tucson Padres: Rivera's got the stats, but now he sitsDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Rene Rivera entered Friday with the ninth best batting average in the Pacific Coast League. The catcher has thrown out 23 of 46 would-be base stealers, which is the best in the PCL.

Yet, the man with 881 career minor-league games to his credit found himself on manager Pat Murphy's couch Friday afternoon for a chat he'd rather not be having.

Good enough numbers to usually be considered for a promotion, Rivera has lost his spot as Tucson's everyday catcher.

The reason? John Baker.

Baker, who predominantly served as San Diego's backup catcher last season and the first two months of this season, was demoted to Tucson this week. With Yasmani Grandal's 50-game suspension served and the 24-year-old back in the big leagues, the Padres were forced to send Baker to Triple-A.

And since Baker is on San Diego's 40-man roster and has more of an accomplished big-league résumé than Rivera, he will slide into the No. 1 role for Murphy's team.

"It's baseball," said Rivera before Tucson's 10-0 win over Fresno at Kino Stadium. "I've been playing every day so far this year and I've been playing well. But, I know Baker has to play because he's on the roster."

Rivera is 29 and has been playing minor-league baseball since 2001. This isn't the first time he's drawn the short straw and it won't be the last.

But he wanted to know exactly what Baker's addition to the roster meant for him. So he popped into Murphy's office Friday and politely asked for an explanation.

"It's always great to have a little chat with the manager about the situation," Rivera said. "He talked to me about what they're going to do, and I'm good with it.

"If you communicate with the players, the players will respect you and understand the situation."

The plan right now is for the two to split time with Baker getting a bit more of the repetitions than Rivera. When the team plays against American League affiliates, Murphy will have the option to use one of them at designated hitter.

Rivera also has limited experience at first and third base and could be an option at both spots.

"He gets it; he's a professional," said Murphy of Rivera. "He knows he can only do one thing, which is be his best self and play hard every day. You can moan and complain about it, but that doesn't get you anywhere. It's all about how you handle it."

Baker was 6 for 40 with two RBIs and no extra-base hits in 16 games for San Diego this season.

He last played regularly in Triple-A in 2008 when he was in the Florida Marlins organization. The 32-year-old now finds himself trying to rejuvenate his career, while also trying to hold off Rivera, who has revitalized his own career.

"He's an exceptional teammate," Murphy said of Baker. "He knows the game. Having a guy like that really helps your club."

Rivera is hopeful the change in playing time won't hurt his hot start. After batting just .226 last year in 95 games with Rochester, Minnesota's Triple-A affiliate, Rivera rediscovered his swing in spring training with Triple-A hitting coach Tom Tornicasa and big-league hitting coach Phil Plantier.

The three of them worked on the usual stuff - getting the front foot down before contact, not swinging too hard and offering only at pitches within the strike zone. The subtle changes now have Rivera batting .345 with 12 doubles, two home runs and 18 RBIs entering Friday.

The ironic part of Rivera's current situation is that he signed with San Diego in the offseason because he thought the Padres gave him the best chance to reach the big leagues. He watched last year as Eddy Rodriguez, who had played just 55 games above High-A, was called up to San Diego because the catching situation there was so dire.

Now Rivera's hitting close to .350 and further away from the big leagues than he's been all season.

"I want to be back in the big leagues," Rivera said. "I thought I would have a real chance to play in the big leagues in this organization and I like it a lot here so far. I'm just hoping one day they give me a chance."

¡Tus Padres!

• Highlight: The Padres (29-26) scored five runs each in the fourth and fifth innings Friday to roll to a 10-0 shutout victory and take three of four games from the Grizzlies. Jonathan Galvez, Jaff Decker and starting pitcher Brandon Kloess all had two RBIs in the win. Decker had his first triple of the season and Tucson batters went 8 for 15 with runners in scoring position.

• Big number: 7: Making his third start of the season after opening in the bullpen, Kloess struck out seven batters and didn't give up a run over five innings. He earned his first win as a starter and gave up just two hits and one walk, lowering his season ERA to 3.28.

• Tonight's starters: LHP Robbie Erlin (4-0, 3.79 ERA) vs. LHP Tyler Skaggs (4-5, 5.23 ERA)

Daniel Berk

Today

• What: Tucson Padres at Reno

• When: 7:05 p.m.

• Radio: 1290-AM

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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