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Posted at 9:45 AM ET, 02/18/2011

Ivan Rodriguez will be the Nationals starting catcher

By Adam Kilgore

pudge slide.jpg

Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman declared Ivan Rodriguez the team's starting catcher to begin the season, creating a competition for the backup position between the Nationals' two young catchers, Jesus Flores and Wilson Ramos.

"My thought is that Pudge is our catcher," Riggleman said. "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."

While Rodriguez will get the nod, Riggleman said the backup will be given frequent playing time, and it will increase as the year goes along. Giving the backup increased work should also help Rodriguez, who hit .231/.257/.297 (average/on-base/slugging) after the all-star break last season, stay fresh.

"Whoever wins that second spot is going to get incorporated into the lineup more and more as we go along," Riggleman said. "Whether its 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."

Flores, 26, is finally healthy after battling a shoulder injury for nearly two years. He had become the Nationals' primary catcher and a promising part of their future in 2009 before a torn labrum derailed him.

Ramos, 24, was acquired in the trade last July that sent closer Matt Capps to the Minnesota Twins. At the end of last season, Ramos shared playing time with Rodriguez equally. Ramos, a defensive star in the making, hit .278/.305/.405 in 22 total major league games last year, 15 of which came with the Nationals.

The loser of the competition will likely be sent to Class AAA. The Nationals will almost certainly not carry all three catchers. Riggleman said he'll re-evaluate if injuries occur to bench players, but there is a "99 percent" chance that the Nationals will carry Rodriguez and one more catcher.

One of the catchers, particularly Flores, could become a trade chip if he does not make the team on opening day. The Nationals also have top prospect Derek Norris, who is likely to start the year in Class AA, in their system at catcher. Riggleman, though, expressed some doubt the Nationals would be motivated to trade their spare catcher.

"The talent that we have and the number [of catchers] that we have is a good number," Riggleman said. "It's not an extraordinary number."

Though Rodriguez will carry the designation of starting catcher for now, he will not necessarily maintain a lock on the job all season, as Riggleman hinted at. Rodriguez's stature in the game and the Nationals' clubhouse leaves the Nationals little choice but to give him the title of starting catcher on opening day. As the year moves along, though, it will be easier for them to give more time to Flores or Ramos if they prove deserving.

By Adam Kilgore  | February 18, 2011; 9:45 AM ET
 
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Next: Long Toss: Flores or Ramos the future at catcher?

Comments

really? REALLY? The guy's 140 years old and hitting .220. Just like everyone else, I can't wait to see him in Cooperstown, but come on.

Posted by: Section406 | February 18, 2011 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Pudge is no longer a good hitter. He's still strong defensively and if Riggs says Pudge is a good leader, then I'll buy that.

But a good hitter? Absolutely not. Not only did Pudge bat .231/.257/.297 after the all star break, Pudge batted .239/.263/.313 after April. His April numbers were great - however, they were largely due to the effect of a very unsustainable .456 BABIP.

Posted by: comish4lif | February 18, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I think it's a sign of progress that we have more than one major league catcher in the system. As time goes on I hope we are able to build up normal levels of depth at all the positions. We've been starved so long that there is a tendency to think we should trade any duplicates. But it's still not clear whether we have even on center fielder and left fielder.

Posted by: Arkymark | February 18, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Back to the future. Hate to say it but as long as Riggleman is the manager, NONE of the young guys will play (without Rizzo demanding it or the old guys come up lame).

Posted by: mitlen | February 18, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Now you see why real managers matter and why the Nats are so handicapped. What's spring training even for? Livan is already named our ace. Pudge is our backstop. Because we've had such a good team in the past and are so close, let's not mess it up.
Meet the new Nats.
Same as the old Nats.
Welcome back Mr. Riggleman.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | February 18, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Can't wait for the doubleswitching to begin. This guy doesn't change his colors at all.
What a joke.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | February 18, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Riggleman is not the best manager in baseball, but he's not a joke. Livo as the OD starter is much more a statement of the team's inability to get an ace than it is an indictment of Riggleman. Livo not only had more wins than any other starter last year, his ERA was a full run better than any of the other candidates. Who else is it going to be? Zimmermann (coming off of TJ surgery, ERA >5 last year)? Lannan? Marquis (that worked so well last year)? Maya (>5 ERA)? Gorzelanny (in and out of the Cubs rotation last year)? When it comes to Livo, leave Riggleman alone.

As for Pudge, last year proves that he plays better splitting time; he clearly wore down last year and only rebounded in September when he was alternating games with Ramos. He starts OD and gets phased out over time while one young catcher takes over his job and the other proves he can be healthy and effective in AAA Syracuse. That seems like an eminently reasonable plan to me.

And also in Riggleman's defense, he did name Desmond a starter and stuck with him through the year. I expect Espinosa to get the same treatment this year.

Posted by: JCCfromDC | February 18, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse

When you think about it for longer than 22 seconds it makes sense for Pudge to start on Opening Day. Give him a chance to repeat last Spring's numbers while he is fresh. As soon as he shows signs of fatigue you have his replacement in hand. If for some reason he is able to maintain his numbers without wearing out then you have the position well in hand. Either Flores or Ramos will be better suited catching every day at the AAA level for this year. And concerning Livan starting as our Ace on Opening Day I am confident that he won't succumb to the pressure that Lannan did the past two OD's.

Posted by: driley | February 18, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse

So much for all of this talk about competition in Spring Traingin. Riggleman seems to have his lineup card filled out for Opening Day already.

Posted by: dfh21 | February 18, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

It's been pretty obvious that the Nats are pretty set in terms of who is going to be playing. C-Pudge, 1b-LaRoche, 2b-Espinosa, SS-Desmond, 3b-Zimmerman, RF-Werth are all pretty set. Morgan, Bernadina, Morse, Ankiel and Nix are going to fight over two spots (LF and CF) with Brown probably starting in AAA. Hairston, Gonzalez and Cora will duel over utility roles. The first four parts of the rotation are likely to be Livo, Zimmermann, Lannan and Marquis with Gorzelanny, Maya, Detwiler and Stammen fighting for a spot. The bullpen will have Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Coffey, and Rodriguez with Balestar, Ramirez and whoever doesn't make the starting rotation fighting for the last couple of spots.

There will be some movement, of course. Players get hurt, some will struggle and some will shine. That's why they play the games :)

Posted by: JCCfromDC | February 18, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm OK with this. Handling the pitching staff will be a big part of the Nats' success. I can't see him ending the year as the starter, but I don't mind easing Flores and Ramos in.

Posted by: InTheCheapSeats | February 18, 2011 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Thank you JCC and driley for having brains and understanding how this works. I don't remember anyone saying anything about "competition" for every spot in the lineup, so those of you who have your knickers in a twist, lighten up and see what happens.

Pudge is clearly the choice to be the starting catcher. While so far all anyone has mentioned is his offensive stats, let's remember that baseball isn't all about batting average and homeruns. I, for one, will feel MUCH more comfortable with Pudge behind the plate than either Flores or Ramos. He is still, at 140 years old, one of the best defensive catchers in the game. Nobody wants to run on him and he fields his position exceptionally well. In addition, he is definitely the one you want back there to handle this pitching staff - the young ones who are still learning, the veterans who have to pitch as much with their heads as with their arms.....and Livo, who throws so soft the umpire could just catch it and throw it back. Seriously, your choices are: a guy who has a grand total of 22 major league games played, a guy who has a grand total of 198 games played and hasn't played in almost two years and a guy who is a first ballot HOFer.....and you're complaining about the choice that has been made?

Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Flores and will be rooting for him to win the backup spot and I definitely see next year being Flores and Ramos as our catchers with Pudge most likely heading back to the AL so he can get to 3000 hits.

Got my Opening Day tix yesterday and can't wait. I'll make no predictions at this point as to how the season may go, I prefer to wait until the end of spring training, when an actual educated guess can be made.

So until then, I'll be reading every day and posting now and then, usually when I see a point being missed. Most folks on here are quite knowledgeable, which makes reading this blog enjoyable.

Posted by: RPrecupjr | February 18, 2011 2:01 PM | Report abuse

While I love Pudge, he doesn't have any pitchers, who are any good (except possibly the ageless wonder, Livan, if he has another season left in him).

Rizzo said upgrading the pitchers was his number one priority. Oops! I guess that didn't work, as usual, for the chincy Nats.

But they're like multiple-personalities. They sign Jason Werth, at age 31, to a 127 million dollar contract.

This team's ownership and management doesn't make sense to me. I hope they prove me wrong, because I love baseball, but I'm tired of paying Major League prices to watch minor league baseball.

Posted by: LuvDCArea | February 18, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Lame.

Posted by: loux24 | February 18, 2011 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Pudge starts. Ramos watches. Flores tears up the minors. Pudge traded mid-season.
You keep Flores AND Ramos. Period.
You deal with Norris when his potential is actualized. It's not yet.
In the meantime, Pudge starts till the trade deadline or until he proves he can't cut it anymore.
Calm down people.

Posted by: Dougie3 | February 18, 2011 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Lame squared. Fudge may be going to the HOF but you can bet he won't go in as a National.

The perfect scenario is to split the time between Ramos and Jesus in 2011. May the best man win. 2012 is the season to get pumped about and the season to prep for now.

Factoid: in 11 seasons as a manager, Riggleman has finished at the bottom 7 times. 7 for 11, think about that. Leo was right, nice guys do finish last.

Posted by: howjensen | February 18, 2011 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Game management issues have been the least of the team's problems in its efforts to escape the cellar. MLB granted DC a franchise with a complete and utter lack of talent throughout the entire organization -- what Frank Robinson did with that ballclub still amazes me. Riggleman, because he is so patient, is the perfect manager for a team that is nearing the late stages of a complete rebuild.

Pudge and Livo are respected veterans, and they can be expected to play like veterans at the beginning of the season. Last season, Pudge wore down physically as the season wore on. Livo is an ageless wonder, who relies on guile, changes in speed, and location instead of power to find ways to win; naming Livo as the ace is a frank admission that the staff is unproven. Given the Nats focus on improved defense and intelligent baseball, I like Pudge and Livo setting the tone for a young clubhouse.

The younger players will be given every opportunity to step up in what will be a very long season. The decision to make the young horses earn starting jobs is completely appropriate. I hope Riggleman is still around when all the pieces are in place. Given what he has had to work with, Riggleman deserves an opportunity to see this project through to its completion.

Posted by: dannykurland1 | February 19, 2011 11:24 AM | Report abuse

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