A rare sight: Rivera in starting lineup
Seldom-used backup catcher paired with right-hander Bush
MILWAUKEE -- On Saturday, for the first time in 43 regular-season and playoff games, the Brewers' seldom-used backup catcher arrived at the ballpark and saw his name in the starting lineup.
It came as little surprise to Mike Rivera that his name was penciled in, since new manager Ken Macha had talked all spring about pairing him with right-hander Dave Bush. It's a move designed to rest starting catcher Jason Kendall on a more regular basis and keep the 34-year-old iron man refreshed for what the Brewers hope are meaningful games in August and September.Before Rivera started on Saturday against the Cubs, Kendall had done so for the first four games of this season, all four of the Brewers' National League Division Series games against the Phillies last fall as well as each of the team's final 34 regular-season games in 2008. "I'm just hoping to get 100 at-bats this year," Rivera said with a smile. "Maybe 200, if I'm lucky." It's not as if he is some slouch. Though Kendall led the Majors and set a franchise record with 149 starts last season, Rivera made the most of his 15 starts -- 13 behind the plate and two at first base -- by batting .306 with a home run and 14 RBIs. He actually compiled a six-game hitting streak, going 8-for-22 (.364). Those six games stretched all the way from April 30 to June 12. Rivera spent all 162 games with the Brewers and was never injured, yet he finished the season with all of 62 at-bats. "Every time that I played, [outfielder Ryan] Braun would always tell me, 'That's amazing what you're doing,' " the humble Rivera said. "I would say back, 'No, it's amazing what you are doing.' But he was impressed that I could hit the ball hard every time while not playing. I had good timing. "I did whatever I could do to make that happen. If there was extra hitting, I was taking extra hitting. Anything to stay sharp. You can't compare playing to practice, but that's what I had to do. I was pretty impressed with myself. I was happy with how I performed when I was out there." Rivera should get more opportunities to impress himself this season. Not only will Macha have him handling Bush, who has made at least 29 starts in each of the past three seasons, the manager's plan calls for him to handle left-hander Manny Parra on occasion, especially when one of Parra's starts falls in a day game after a night game. Rivera and Parra go back to their days at Triple-A Nashville, and Rivera was behind the plate for Parra's perfect game on June 25, 2007. Macha preferred to keep Kendall regularly paired with young starters Parra and Yovani Gallardo, and veteran Jeff Suppan has expressed a preference for Kendall. So that left Bush and newcomer Braden Looper to pair with Rivera, and Macha chose Rivera based partly on some past success. Rivera, for example, was behind the plate when Bush matched a career-high with 13 strikeouts last July 10. "I love the style of pitching that he has," Rivera said. "He has a fastball, curveball, cutter, changeup. He mixes all of his pitches. He's not a pitcher who just stays with two pitches, and I like it because it's kind of a challenge. You have to work with a pitcher, to know what he has that day. Now he has better control of his changeup, and I think it's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do together." Saturday was as good a time as any to give Kendall a break, as he was off to an 0-for-11 start to the season. "He's scuffling with the bat, so it's probably good to have a day off," Macha said. "But Jason is our main guy, and we want to keep him fresh so that when we get into August and September, he will be able to go out there the majority of those games. When I had him in Oakland, one year he caught the last 32 or 35 in a row after doing this type of schedule [early in the season]."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.