Josh Thole is handed starting duties

PITTSBURGH -- The New York Mets paved the way for rookie Josh Thole to catch the bulk of the team's remaining games and prove himself worthy of that role in 2011 by sending Rod Barajas to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a waiver claim Sunday morning.

"If I'm going to have a chance to catch every day, awesome," Thole said. "If I'm going to be the left-handed bat off the bench, awesome, too. I'm ready. I've been working with all the starters in the bullpen developing good relationships with all the guys."

Barajas, 34, started off with a long-ball binge in his lone season with the Mets, homering nine times in his first 82 at-bats. However, his production nose-dived as the season progressed. Overall he hit .225 with 12 homers and 34 RBIs in 249 at-bats.

"Things started out great, and it was exciting -- it was an exciting time for us," said Barajas, who had signed with the Mets during the first week of spring training. "It's tough to leave. But, at the same time, I wasn't sure how much playing time was going to come my way. If I could get in a situation where I can get behind the plate and play a little more, then I was all for it. It's mixed emotions, definitely."

The Mets had been carrying three catchers since Barajas returned from a left-oblique strain on Thursday.

Mets manager Jerry Manuel said Thole will handle the majority of the catching duties, with veteran backup Henry Blanco playing some against left-handers as well as being the primary receiver for Johan Santana.

Barajas said he saw this move coming.

"When you have a guy as talented as Josh -- a young guy who you see as part of your core nucleus going into the future -- if he's up here and he's playing well, you're going to want to keep playing him," Barajas said. "And I understand that. I've been around the game long enough to know what direction teams are trying to go. For me, if that was going to be the case and there was an opportunity for me to go somewhere else and get some playing time, then that would probably be the best-case scenario for everybody involved. … Now Josh has a chance to not look over his shoulder."

Thole, 23, entered Sunday's series finale at Pittsburgh hitting .292 with one homer and nine RBIs in 96 at-bats.

Thole uses the rare technique of choking up on his bat in any count, which enhances his ability to hit for a high average at the expense of power. He became a full-time catcher in the Mets' system in May 2008. He primarily played first base during his first three seasons as a professional.

Thole has made strides with his catching technique, although his arm strength is considered below-average. The Mets had enough faith in Thole to make him knuckleballer R.A. Dickey's primary catcher.

"Right now we see a good, young spray hitter," Manuel said. "I think he will develop a little power. For a catcher to hit for a high average, you've got to be a pretty good hitter, because you ain't going to get no infield hits -- that type of thing.

"He's a left-handed hitter. That's always good to have a left-handed-hitting catcher, I think. I think there will be some power there. I don't know how much. I think at some point you might see a season where he might hit 10 to 15 home runs."

The Mets promoted outfielder Jesus Feliciano from Triple-A Buffalo to take Barajas' roster spot.

The Dodgers lost starting catcher Russell Martin to a season-ending right-hip injury Aug. 3 and have been trying to piece together their catching situation with Brad Ausmus and A.J. Ellis.

Barajas grew up 20 miles from Dodger Stadium and was excited to be heading to Los Angeles.

"It's a good spot for me," Barajas said. "That's my team. That's who I grew up with. That was a childhood dream. To get that opportunity to put that uniform on, it's going to be one of the high points of my career. I love L.A. I'm an L.A. guy. So going back home, if I could pick a team, that would probably be it."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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