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Navarro starts on road back to big leagues

It doesn’t matter if it’s in Toronto or somewhere else. Dioner Navarro can’t help any big-league team until he’s healthy.

So the Blue Jays’ catcher was pretty happy to get in seven innings behind the plate and three at-bats Tuesday as he opened his rehab assignment for the Buffalo Bisons in their 10-5 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Field.

“It was exhausting,” said a smiling Navarro, 31. “It was a little long, but I was definitely happy to be back there for a while and be back on the field.”

Navarro went 1 for 3 at the plate, grounding out in the first, driving a double to the base of the wall in right-center in the third and striking out on three pitches with the bases loaded in the fifth. Most important, he reported no issue in his strained hamstring.

“He did all right,” said manager Gary Allenson. “He’s probably a little rusty catching … his swing looked fine.”

Navarro, who was batting .267 in Toronto, has been on the disabled list since April 25. He played a career-high 139 games as the starter last year, posting a .274 average with 12 homers and 69 RBIs.

The plan is for Navarro to DH in Wednesday afternoon’s series finale, then the Bisons are off Thursday and Navarro will likely catch top Blue Jays prospect Miguel Castro in the opener of Friday’s doubleheader against Rochester. And is it realistic after that to be ready for Toronto this weekend?

“Real realistic,” Navarro said. “Take one day at a time and we’ll see.”

When that happens, Navarro will likely return as Russell Martin’s backup, with Josh Thole coming back to Buffalo.

Even though Navarro was coming off his best season since he was an all-star and World Series starter for Tampa Bay in 2008, the Blue Jays signed Martin over the winter and the Canadian has grabbed complete control of the top job behind the plate. It leaves Navarro, a 31-year-old with 862 games of big-league experience, wondering if the Blue Jays will eventually deal him to a team looking for help at catcher.

“It’s OK. Everything happens for a reason,” Navarro said pointedly. “I’m a huge believer in that. I’m going to give my 100 percent every time I play. I feel that I can still help, whether it’s the Blue Jays or somebody else.”

Navarro had one shaky moment behind the plate in the third, when Ryan Schimpf’s throw home from right looked like it was in plenty of time to nail Indy’s Gustavo Nunez. The throw was on the first-base side of the plate and replays showed that Nunez had yet to enter the dirt cutout around home but Navarro didn’t reach back and apply a tag to the sliding runner, instead opting to throw late to third to get Steve Lombardozzi.

“I didn’t see him because the throw was to my right and I knew I wasn’t able to get back so I tried to get the runner at third and grab an out somehow,” Navarro said. “I’ve been around a little bit. I knew I wasn’t going to have a play.”

“I’d have to be the catcher on the play to really know what happened there,” Allenson said. “By that time, I was getting dizzy from all the runners they had on base.”