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Ivan Rodriguez will be the Nationals’ starting catcher at age 39

Feb 18, 2011, 12:19 PM EDT

Ivan Rodriguez, Ian Desmond

Washington’s former catcher of the future Jesus Flores is finally healthy after missing nearly two years with shoulder problems and current catcher of the future Wilson Ramos is just about MLB-ready after spending last season at Triple-A, yet manager Jim Riggleman announced today that Ivan Rodriguez will be the starter behind the plate:

We’re going to go out there and Pudge is going to continue to lead our ball club as a leader behind the plate, a good hitter, just a good baseball player. He’s got a lot of baseball left. So he’s our catcher.

Rodriguez was once a great player and he remains very good at throwing out runners, but to call him “a good hitter” at this point is just silly. He batted .266 with a ghastly .294 on-base percentage and punchless .347 slugging percentage in 421 plate appearances last season, homering just four times, posting a terrible 66/16 K/BB ratio, and grounding into 25 double plays. Among the 205 players who batted at least 400 times his .640 OPS ranked 193rd. He’s also 39 years old and wasn’t any better in 2009, hitting .249 with a .663 OPS.

For their sanity this season and the team’s long-term success Nationals fans should hope that Flores or Ramos eventually steals the starting job from Rodriguez, who at this stage of his career (and on a team in rebuilding mode) seems like a much better fit as a prospect-mentoring backup. Here’s how Riggleman envisions the backup’s role:

Whoever wins that second spot is going to get incorporated into the lineup more and more as we go along,. Whether it’s Ramos or Flores, they’re very talented guys that we’re not going let them die on the vine. They got to get playing time. Whichever guy is there, they’re going to get playing time and stay sharp, and as the year goes on, probably get a little more playing time.

Well, that’s better at least.

Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post speculates that the loser of the backup battle will head to Triple-A, which seemingly makes Flores the early favorite given that he’s two years older and has significant big-league experience. Another option is that the Nationals could look to trade Flores if he proves healthy this spring, as plenty of teams could use a 26-year-old catcher with some offensive upside.

  1. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Feb 18, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Jim was simply saying that to show his respect for Pudge – inaccurate as it is.

  2. Panda Claus - Feb 18, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    Announcing that your team will start a 39-year old catcher seems to imply the Nats plan to contend this year. I just don’t see it.

  3. cur68 - Feb 18, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    Hey don’t be a doubter. What if Ivan is in the best shape of his life?

    • Old Gator - Feb 19, 2011 at 3:01 PM

      I think Riggelman plans to wait until the Gnats are firmly ensconced in fifth place so that he can bring up his catchers of the future and let them get comfortable with their roles in a non-pressured environment.

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