Given Ivan Rodriguez’s offensive erosion, it’s easy to assume the Nationals and Manager Jim Riggleman keep playing him out of deference more than anything. Rodriguez is hitting .200/.238/.325 this season, and those numbers figure to go up, but probably not by too much. Wilson Ramos is murdering baseballs, it seems, every time he plays.
But the Nationals have a sound reason for playing Rodriguez, and it has nothing to do with veteran presence or experience or savvy or any of those tired clichés. Rodriguez is perhaps the best defensive catcher ever, and he remains one of the elite defenders in the game, as he showed again Thursday night.
In the seventh, with two outs and the Nationals clinging to a 4-3 lead, Jose Reyes singled. It was obvious he would try to reach second base. “It was late in the game,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody knows, when Reyes is in scoring position, any base hit is going to score him.”
On the mound, Livan Hernandez held the ball and held the ball, trying to throw off Reyes’s timing at first. He took off, and Rodriguez showed off his arm. He’s made thousands upon thousands of throws since he debuted in 1991, but at 39, his arm still resembles a rocket launcher. Ian Desmond slapped down the tag, and Rodriguez had thrown out maybe the fastest runner in baseball.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Rodriguez said. “That was a missile.”
“I always got a good arm. I take a lot of pride in my defense. My main priority in my game is defense. I want to get my pitches to have a great game, calling a good game for them, and I’ve been doing that for 20-something years. I take a lot of pride in that. My arm felt good today. I made a very, very good throw.”
Rodriguez also helped finish off the game by guiding Drew Storen through the ninth inning. Willie Harris came to the plate with the tying run on second. Storen and Rodriguez had to beat Harris despite his knowledge of them. “I knew that he knew what I was trying to do there,” Storen said.
Said Rodriguez: “Everybody knows Willie. We know what Willie is looking for – just to get a good pitch to hit and hit it out of the park. In that at-bat, I tried to work in the area he doesn’t get a good pitch to hit out of the park.”
After the count ran to 3-2, Rodriguez called for a slider, just the pitch Storen wanted to throw. Harris swung and missed, ending the game. Rodriguez pumped his fist, still jacked to win after all these years.
“That’s how much I love what I do,” Rodriguez said.
FROM THE POST
In his first game after the birth of his son, Ian Desmond led the Nationals to a 4-3 victory over the Mets while Livan Hernandez pitched eight innings.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Toledo 7, Syracuse 2: Chris Marrero went 1 for 4 with a double and is now hitting .231. Cole Kimball allowed one hit and struck out one in 1 1/3 scoreless innings. He has yet to allow an earned run in 8 2/3 innings. Tom Millone allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings on 10 hits and a walk.
Harrisburg 6, Altoona 2: Tyler Moore went 2 for 4 with two home runs. Brad Peacock allowed one run in seven innings on five hits and one walk, striking out seven.
Potomac 8, Myrtle Beach 6: Cutter Dykstra went 3 for 6 with two doubles. J.P. Ramirez went 3 for 5 with a double.
West Virginia 14, Hagerstown 2:Bryce Harper went 2 for 3 with a double and a home run. Blake Kelso went 2 for 5.
Hagerstown 3, West Virginia 2: Bryce Harper went 2 for 3 with a double. In 62 at-bats this year, Harper is now hitting .323/.425/.645. In his last 10 games, Harper has a .514 on-base percentage and is slugging .935.