Ivan Rodriguez could probably use another day to rest his strained left calf, but he was adamant about playing today, in part because he will leave Nationals’ camp next week for three days to tend to a “real positive” family matter in Puerto Rico, Manager Jim Riggleman said.
Riggleman would have felt fine about Rodriguez missing that time, but Rodriguez likes to catch and wouldn’t have been comfortable missing more time with his injury and then because of his personal trip. He wants to feel prepared for opening day – and Rodriguez remains the Nationals’ opening day catcher, Riggleman said, affirming what the Nationals have declared since camp opened.
“Pudge will catch that game,” Riggleman said, “and we’ll go from there.”
Rodriguez is a 39-year-old with obvious Hall of Fame credentials, and the Nationals want to honor him with the designation of starting opening day. After the first game, as has been presumed since last year, Wilson Ramos will receive ample playing time. He has been one of the Nationals’ most impressive hitters this spring despite a paltry .267/.313/.400 slash line, swinging with more authority than last season after making a change to the lower half of his swing with hitting coaching Rick Eckstein.
One major league scout predicted Ramos would overtake Rodriguez as the Nationals’ everyday catcher early in the season. Another raved that Ramos “seems like he’s already been around for a while,” high praise for a catcher with 22 major league games. Pitchers love throwing to Ramos, a big, confident target behind the plate.
“Both of them will catch a lot,” Riggleman said. “Ramos has played his way on to the club at this point. I can’t say that he’s the second catcher. He’s done nothing to say he isn’t. But Flores has come on swinging the bat.”
Despite Riggleman’s assertion, it seems clear Ramos has separated himself from Flores, who is 3 for 23 this spring while receiving his first consistent major league playing time since May 2009. “I’m not totally ready to say Flores is ready to catch three or four days in a row,” Riggleman said. The Nationals will have Flores catch some minor league games in the coming days, mixed in with major league games, in order to enhance his workload.