Ivan Rodriguez put on his Nats cap and jersey this afternoon in a press conference at Nationals Park and made it clear from the get-go he didn’t sign with this club for the next two seasons just so he can sit on the bench and mentor Jesus Flores.
“I’m ready to play every day,” said Pudge, who is locked up for two years and $6 million. “We discussed that. I’m a player that I still can play every day and I will play every day. And basically the thing is just, you know, to do my best for the club. I know that it’s hard for me to play 162 games. That’s impossible for a catcher. But as long as I’m healthy and I’m feeling great physically, I’ll be in the field playing.”
That’s not exactly the kind of playing time Nats GM Mike Rizzo envisioned for the 38-year-old Rodriguez. Upon completing the deal earlier this week at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, Rizzo said he envisions Pudge catching anywhere from 70-80 games and primarily serving as Flores’ backup. But Rizzo wasn’t at all upset with Rodriguez’s strong plea for playing time today.
“Would you expect anything different?” Rizzo said. “He’s a 14-time All-Star. He’s a very prideful guy. And he thinks his skills are at their finest. He might be right. You never know. Like I said at the beginning, he’s going to be a significant contributor to the ballclub. Now if that means 70-80 games or if that means 70-80-90-100 games, those are questions that will be answered throughout the course of the season. The best problem that I’ll have all season is: Who of these two hot catchers are we going to play on a daily basis?”
Some more highlights from today’s proceedings, plus an update at the bottom on Scott Olsen’s progress…
On trying to get to 3,000 hits: “That’s a goal. I’m not too far from there. Two hundred and eighty-something hits left for that. And that’s one of my goals. But the most important thing is to have a good season for the Nationals and have a great year myslef and help the team to win ballgames.”
On his leadership role in the clubhouse: “That’s the way I am. I love to win. I want my teammates to do well, too. It’s a team. We’re a family. When you put on this uniform, it’s a family for eight months. We have to take care of ourselves. We have to respect ourselves and support ourselves day in and day out. That’s my philosophy. That’s the way I am. I’m going to be in the clubhouse, sit down and talk with guys about whatever. That’s how I grew up. Back in 91 with Nolan Ryan and all those guys, they teach me to be that kind of player, to help others. And that’s the way I am.”
On the similarities between this Nats team and the 2004 Tigers team he signed with after they lost 119 games: “I think this club is much better than [Detroit in] ‘04. In ‘04, it was a very challenging season for us. But we ended up winning 72 games. From  losses in 2003 to be able to finish the next season with at least 72 wins, it was a big improvement for us. But here, I see this ballclub different. It’s a completely different team. They hit very well and they’re going to pitch very well. I’m going to do my best behind the plate to make those guys do the job, lower their ERA and win. Get the W. The most important thing is to have a lot of W’s for the season.”
On the impact Pudge will have on the Nats’ pitching staff: “He’s the ultimate preparation guy. He’s the ultimate professional. He always states what he gives you offensively is secondary. His most important feature to any ballclub, in his words, are how he handles the pitching staff and the game-calling skills he has. Of course, he’s a shut-down running game type of guy. … You look at the guy, he’s a 5 percent body fat guy who’s in good condition and he’s got the attitude that he wants to contribute. I don’t know if you guys noticed it. I noticed it. He said it’s all about winning 10 times. That’s the attitude we want to have with all the players we acquire. It’s about the name on the front more so than the name on the back and a winning attitude.”
On how this all affects Derek Norris’ development in the minor leagues” “It’s no coincidence that Ivan is signed to a two-year contract. We believe Norris is two years away from contributing in the major leagues. So the timetable worked for us. The personality worked for us. The character of the player worked for us. That was why he was so appealing for us.”
On Flores’ health status: “I can only go by what the medical people tell me. They say he should be 100 percent ready to participate in spring training. We take them at their word. But we all know that specifically shoulders are very difficult to predict. The addition of Pudge Rodriguez was not a mentor, was not an insurance plan. This is a very capable, productive, major league player who still throws out a lot of runners, who still can handle the bat great and brings us so many intangibles on and off the field, obviously that’s the reason why we identified this guy from the beginning and were so aggressive in going to get him.”
On Scott Olsen, who is a candidate to be non-tendered before tomorrow’s midnight deadline: “He has completed his rehabilitation, and now he is just preparing for spring training. It’s a major milestone for him. He’s no longer rehabilitating an injury. He’s preparing for next year’s spring training.”
How much does that affect tomorrow’s decision? “It’s a piece of the puzzle. It’s more information. The more information, the better decisions we can make.”