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Nats' Rodriguez terms Strasburg 'amazing'

The Washington Nationals continue spring training at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla.

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By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

VIERA, FLA. Before his bullpen session here on Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg glanced to see who'd be his catcher of the day. In his first work of spring training Sunday, it was minor leaguer Derek Norris. This time he saw Iván Rodríguez, 14 All-Star games, 13 Gold Gloves.

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"The first couple of pitches, I lost focus when I saw [whom] it was," said Strasburg, who hit Pudge in the toe with his first pitch. "It was unreal, throwing to a [future] Hall of Famer."

For 10 minutes, the 21-year-old who has been called -- maybe prematurely but not necessarily incorrectly -- the best pitching prospect ever, pounded Pudge's mitt with four different pitches.

By the end, it was Pudge who thought the day had been unreal. "Amazing," he said to me later. Then clammed up.

No one understands the quality of a pitcher's stuff as well as a great veteran catcher. He feels it in his hand. His reflexes inform him; if he can barely catch the ball at times, how can others hit it?

So, everybody here in the Nats spring training camp has waited for Pudge to catch Jesus. Yes, that's Strasburg's nickname now, courtesy of Nyjer Morgan who said, "That's what everybody says the first time they see Strasburg throw -- Jeeee-sus."

Scouts matter. Radar guns and videotape are nice. But Pudge is an opinion with a difference. After 10 minutes with Strasburg, I-Rod said only three words. Over his shoulder, he barked to General Manager Mike Rizzo, "Good job, Mike." A line of Nats front office brass let out a group chuckle.

Rodríguez wouldn't gush about the rookie to reporters. Don't jinx him, like Sparky Anderson calling Kirk Gibson "the next Mickey Mantle." But he spilled the beans in private to Nats brass.

"I can't repeat most of what Pudge said. It would put too much pressure on the general manager," said Rizzo, the general manager.

However, pitching coach Steve McCatty did the dishing.

"Is his stuff like [Justin] Verlander?' " asked McCatty, knowing Rodríguez caught the A.L. strikeout leader in Detroit.

"No," said Rodríguez. "It's like Nolan."


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