Notes: Navarro stronger after turmoil

Notes: Navarro stronger after turmoil

ST. PETERSBURG - Dioner Navarro arrived in camp Monday after making a trip to Caracas, Venezuela, to be with his mother, Rosa, who was stricken with a brain aneurysm on Feb. 8.

"She's stable, she's fine," said the Rays catcher. "She had a brain aneurysm, she's fine. I don't really want to talk about it. I just want to concentrate on being here with the team and look forward to the next season."

Navarro and his family have experienced a lot of off-the-field problems the last few years, beginning with his wife, Sherley, who collapsed in Tampa and nearly died during surgery in September 2003. And the couple's son, Dioner Jr., was born with a condition that required surgery to remove a kidney, along with subsequent complications since. In addition, the family survived a July 2006 car wreck.

"I guess all that stuff that happens to me makes me stronger and makes me realize that I have people around me who keep me strong," Navarro said.

Despite what he's gone through recently with his mother, Navarro said he won't have a hard time focusing on baseball.

"She's in good hands," Navarro said. "Like I said, I don't want to talk about it, but I know she will be fine."

Rays manager Joe Maddon said it was "good to see him back."

"He's been going through a lot," Maddon said. "Another severe situation with his family."

Navarro hit .227 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 2007, but finished the season with a flurry, hitting .306 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in September.

"I don't know, I just want to keep it going," Navarro said. "I want [the way he finished 2007] to be a part of my first half this season."

Navarro said he is in the best shape of his life.

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"I came [to the complex] every day we had a workout [in the offseason]," Navarro said. "I'm watching what I'm eating. ... I went down to Venezuela and played for 21 days after I did my work here. I think that whatever I did here paid off a little bit in Venezuela. I hit good, I felt good, my movement behind the plate was smooth."

Navarro is excited about this season.

"We just have to perform the way we know we can do it," Navarro said. "I can tell you we can't wait to go out there and do it."

Hinske in the house: Eric Hinske recently signed a Minor League contract with the Rays and the veteran said he's ready for whatever role the Rays want him to play.

"Honestly, I'm just here trying to make the team, try to help them win," said Hinske, who is a non-roster invitee. "Whatever way I can do that is the role I'll accept -- try to play well during spring and hopefully they'll want to keep me."

If anything, Hinske gives the Rays depth. The past couple of years he's primarily played first base, DH and the corner outfield positions. But he also plays third base, which could put him in the mix for third base if the Rays decide they want top prospect Evan Longoria to begin the season at Triple-A Durham.

"[Third base is] the position I'm most comfortable at," Hinske said. "That's what I came up as. I played my first six years [in the Major Leagues] at third base. But, like I said, whatever they want me to do, if they want me to be a bench guy, whatever they want me to do. Corner outfield spots, corner infield spots, I will have no problem playing third."

Hinske has a career average of .255 with 85 home runs and 339 RBIs in 770 Major League games, but he slumped to a .204 average with six home runs and 21 RBIs in 186 at-bats with the Red Sox in 2007. He attributes the drop in production to not knowing how to be a bench player.

"I was playing once a week," Hinske said. "For a guy who is used to playing a lot, it was tough for me to have timing and know how to approach it. But I think I learned a lot last year. And if that's the role I have to be in again, I'll know what I have to do."

Tampa connections: Rays first baseman Carlos Pena has joined with recently retired Tampa Bay Buccaneer Mike Alstott, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger and Tampa Bay Storm receiver Lawrence Samuels to become an official spokesperson for a new Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) mentoring program initiative geared towards men called Sports Buddies.

"With the right instruction and direction, sports can help kids develop the necessary skills and virtues to make all their dreams a reality," said Pena in a released statement. "I believe that the Big Brothers Big Sisters' Sports Buddies program gives all of us the opportunity to become instrumental in the life of a young kid with big dreams."

Sports Buddies is a new activity-based mentoring program designed to encourage men to share their love of sports with a child. Sports Buddies also provides opportunities for adults to help build friendships and model good sportsmanship, and provides the opportunity for children to experience sporting and recreational events that were once out of reach.

This and that: Akinori Iwamura has a new interpreter this season with the arrival of Tateki "Bori" Uchibori, who attended Quincy College and Western Kentucky before spending 10 seasons working with English-speaking players in Japan. ... Right-hander Juan Salas still has not reported to camp after having visa problems in the Dominican Republic. ... Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system has predicted an 82-80 season for the Rays in 2008, which would give them a fourth-place finish in the American League East. ... Troy Percival had an interesting adjustment to the back of his jersey at Monday's workout. The names Glavine, Avery, and Smoltz were listed and followed by Kazmir, Shields and Garza. Maddon said the shirt made him "giggle," adding that he knew Percival was trying to motivate the Rays "Young Gun" pitchers.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.