George Kottaras Enters Four-Way Fight For Backup Gig





MARYVALE, Ariz.—Catcher George Kottaras won't have to worry about chasing bouncing baseballs back to the screen this spring.

As a backup with the Red Sox last year, Kottaras became the personal catcher of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Because he was a young player seeing his first extensive action in the majors, he wasn't about to complain.

"I had a great time," Kottaras said. "It's different (handling a knuckleballer). You just try to catch it. I worked really hard on little things here and there to make it easier.

"I had to have fun with it. If I didn't have fun with it, that's when the trouble started. I had to stay relaxed. The more relaxed I was, the better I did. No two knuckleballs do the same thing. It's always a new experience."

That experience ended after the season when the Red Sox designated Kottaras for assignment, only to lose him on a waiver claim by the Brewers, who were looking to build depth at the position.

A few weeks later, Milwaukee signed veteran Gregg Zaun to be the starting catcher. A few weeks after that, they signed veteran backup Matt Treanor, who missed practically all of last season with an injury.

Toss in catching prospects Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy, and you have four players trying to win the backup job to Zaun this spring. Kottaras seemed up for the challenge.

"There's always competition in this business," said Kottaras, a lefty-hitting Greek Canadian who began his pro career with the Padres in 2003. "That's the way it was for me last year in Boston.

"I'm back in that situation again this year. I've been working hard and I'll be ready."

Kottaras, 26, played in 45 games for the Red Sox last year, batting .237/.308/.387 as the backup to Jason Varitek. But he strained his lower back in July and went on the disabled list. By the time he returned, Boston had traded for Victor Martinez.

Rather than fret over what might have been, Kottaras was focusing on his new opportunity with the Brewers.

"I had a great time in Boston," he said. "I learned so much over there. The guys were great. I didn't want to close the door. It was just one of those things where the timing wasn't there."

MICROBREWS

• Lefthander Chuck Lofgren, a big league Rule 5 pick from the Indians, will audition for a role as a match-up reliever.

• Shortstop Luis Cruz, claimed on waivers from the Pirates over the winter, has a minor league option remaining and figures to begin the year with Triple-A Nashville.