Rodriguez doesn’t want a day off. In his 21st season, the 14-time all-star actually still prefers a heavy workload. And he’s definitely not the type to request a break after only one game. That’s why this could be difficult.
- Jason Reid
Wilson Ramos’ potential will give Pudge an unwelcome nudge
Regardless of Rodriguez’s feelings, the Nationals are transitioning to Ramos as their everyday catcher. They’re confident Ramos will take a major step this season, so there’s no sense in waiting to start an important process for the franchise’s future. The Nationals are making the right move in giving Ramos an early opportunity to prove he’s ready, and Rodriguez will simply have to deal with it as best he can.
Ramos’s performance will determine how fast things happen, though it seems no timetable would be acceptable to Rodriguez.
“There’s a lot of baseball left in me,” he said after Thursday’s 2-0 loss to Atlanta at Nationals Park.
The situation is sensitive for the Nationals because of Rodriguez’s strong work ethic and stature in the game. But Rodriguez, who needs 183 hits for 3,000 (an important milestone to him), is no longer productive offensively. He hasn’t been for some time.
Rodriguez isn’t the first Hall of Fame-caliber player to suffer a bruised ego in the twilight of his career. Undoubtedly, he won’t be the last.
Only a failure to perform by Ramos could derail the Nationals’ plan. Because that’s not expected, Rodriguez is facing a new, uncomfortable reality.
“I work very hard,” he said. “I take care of myself very good. Physically and mentally, I feel great.
“The most important thing is the passion is still there. And the love for the game is still there. And when you have those things still with you, you should keep playing.”
Manager Jim Riggleman understands. He admires Rodriguez’s passion.
Riggleman respects Rodriguez, 39, for being a “gamer.” He believes the 13-time Gold Glove Award winner could play several more seasons as a backup because “he’s still a great athlete behind the plate. He blocks balls as good as anybody. He throws people out. He’s got a lot left.”
The days of Rodriguez playing at least 100 games at catcher, however, are likely over with the Nationals. If all goes as expected, Ramos, 23, and Rodriguez will split time almost evenly this season.
Or Ramos could quickly move ahead of Rodriguez if his offensive production steadily approaches his immense potential. That’s what the Nationals are hoping for, because their Adam Dunn-less batting order would benefit if Ramos delivers.
General Manager Mike Rizzo has placed a priority on defense, a sound baseball move by a proven baseball man.
Of course, the Nationals eventually must score to win games. Even batting eighth, Rodriguez is a liability offensively. He has a .296 on-base percentage since 2007, which ties him for the fourth-lowest total in the majors over that time span. His .683 OPS is the eighth-lowest in baseball.