The Washington Times - August 25, 2011, 07:06PM

Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez will take a big step in his lengthy rehab from a strained right oblique when he begins a rehab assignment this weekend with Single-A Potomac. 

Rodriguez, who has been on the disabled list since July 7 with the strain, has finally worked up to mostly pain-free batting practice and will test the oblique further Saturday when he catches five innings for Potomac in Frederick, Md., against the Keys. If all goes well, Rodriguez will then catch seven innings and progress to nine innings.

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His plan, barring any setbacks, is then to move on to Double-A. Conceivably, should Stephen Strasburg be making what could be his final rehab start on Thursday, Sept. 1, with Double-A Harrisburg, Rodriguez could be his catcher.

“If it’s in my schedule, I’ll catch him,” Rodriguez said Thursday after taking live batting practice in the cage for the third day. “I want to play. I’ve got to feel good. If I feel good, I’ll play. I’ve got to go and test it. Right now I’m swinging good, feeling great, swinging no problem. Once in a while I feel (pain) but it’s not a big deal.”

Rodriguez, 39, is a free agent after this season and while he’s maintained that he’d like to return to the Nationals for the 2012 season, there haven’t been any conversations between he and the Nationals to that end. Rodriguez is 158 hits away from 3,000 in his career and his agent, Scott Boras, made a case earlier this week for keeping an accomplished veteran like him around.

“I think Pudge provides so much to a team,” Boras said. “He and Stras have a very good relationship. Pudge has answers. He’s been in the league so long and his answers are very, very refined and simple to a lot of players. He can go up to a lot of players and say a lot of things and say ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that, do this, do that.’ The players believe it because he’s been in the leagues that long. I think there’s tremendous value to that.

“I see great young arms come to the big leagues and it’s so difficult to develop them if there’s not a veteran catcher or if there’s not a veteran No.1 starter on the team. It’s hard for the pitchers.”