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Levine: White Sox Catchers Struggling To Hit, Are Still An Asset

By Bruce Levine--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In their first seasons in Chicago, White catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro have struggled to make solid contact at the plate in their team's 10-6 start.

The pair of veteran were brought in to replace the light-hitting combo of Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto from last season. So far, the hitting results haven't changed much. Avila is hitting .185 with no RBIs and a .489 OPS in nine games, while Navarro is hitting .080 with one RBI and a .160 OPS in nine games.

Neither was expected to hit a ton. Avila has struggled to hit since 2011 -- when he won a Silver Slugger -- in part due to injury and concussion problems. The switch-hitting Navarro has some power from both sides of the plate and is a.255 lifetime hitter, and he combined to hit 25 homers across 2013 and 2014.

The White Sox front office had been under the gun to replace Flowers, who was well-liked and respected during his Chicago tenure from 2009-'15 but plagued by sporadic offense. The belief was he was better suited to be a backup than an everyday catcher, so the team parted ways with him in the offseason, then brought both Avila and Navarro in on one-year deals.

The 29-year-old Avila has the ability to catch the lion's share of the ball games and produce at a higher level. He hit .295 with 19 homers and 82 RBIs in 2011, then has seen his average dip to .227, .218 and .191 in the past three seasons.

The 32-year-old Navarro has been a backup for most of his career, the exception being 2014, when he played 139 games for the Blue Jays, hitting 12 homers and driving in 69 runs.

"It's not just about our catchers," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said, referring to a team that's not hitting much. "It's all the way through the team right now. I think it's going to get better for the catchers. Meantime, we like very much what are pitchers are doing and how the two guys are calling games."

The ability of Avila and Navarro to handle the team's pitchers and their pitch selection has been widely praised by a staff that's been the team's biggest strength. And no matter what, that's the focus first and foremost at the catching position.

"We did not bring these guys in here to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases," Ventura said. "Their No. 1 priority is to take care of the pitchers. We need them to call a great game and throw guys out. That stuff is the important part of what they do. I promise you they will be part of the offense -- they will."

Avila expects to contribute with the bat, as does Navarro.

"For me, the most important stat is wins and losses," Avila said. "At the same time, it's certainly fair to look at our offensive numbers. What do we have, 20 or 30 at-bats (each)? If we have a game where we get a couple of hits, the average looks a lot different. At this point, I don't fret too much about it. As long as we are winning, that is No. 1. Yes we do have to contribute with the bat, no doubt."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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