Kratz gets in work behind plate with Dickey

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays' evaluation of catcher Erik Kratz began in earnest Thursday afternoon when he was behind the plate for a start by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Kratz spent the first two weeks of camp working with Dickey, but it's one thing to catch a knuckleball during a side session and it's an entirely different challenge to catch it during a game with runners on base.

It didn't take long for Kratz to be thrown right into the fire as the Phillies loaded the bases against Dickey during the first inning. Kratz was then charged with a passed ball that allowed a run to score, but for the most part, he looked quite comfortable.

"I felt like it went well. Obviously I'd like to see him go out there and go 1-2-3, but no better than hopping right into it and getting guys on base and getting the anticipation of that out of the way," Kratz said. "It was like I thought it was going to be, but it was something that I know I can build on and definitely improve upon."

Spring Training is only a couple of weeks old, but as of now, Kratz appears to be the early favorite to become Dickey's personal catcher. An opportunity clearly presented itself when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons went on record earlier this spring to say that starting catcher Dioner Navarro is unlikely to get behind the plate for any of Dickey's games.

Josh Thole is competing for that backup job as well, but has yet to spend much time with Dickey this spring. One of the reasons is Thole and Dickey worked with each other during each of the past two seasons and won't need a lot of reps, but there's still some doubt that Thole actually has a chance for the backup role.

There will need to be more improvement before the start of the season, but it was a strong debut for Kratz. He looked relaxed behind the plate and waited for the ball to come to him as opposed to reaching out and trying to force the issue, which can cause problems with the late-breaking pitch.

"It wasn't perfect," Kratz said after the Blue Jays' 7-5 victory. "I had the anticipated anxiety that I thought I would. The idea of trying to relax, being out there, getting a different visual. But I felt like it went very well. I felt like there is plenty of room for improvement, but I thought it went well and a lot of things that I saw in his bullpen sessions, it was good to see them in the game."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.