Last week, Nationals manager Davey Johnson came to Ivan Rodriguez and told the veteran catcher that he’d like to start him twice more before the end of the season. Rodriguez could pick the days. Initially his choices were Sunday, the home finale for the Nationals, and Wednesday, the season finale in Florida.
But Friday night, after pinch hitting for the Nationals and getting a standing ovation, Rodriguez approached Johnson and asked if he could switch. Saturday was the day he wanted to start what could be his final home game in a Nationals uniform.
Rodriguez hasn’t started a game behind the plate since July 4, three days before he strained his right oblique during batting practice and missed the next two months of the season.
While Rodriguez feels he can still be a productive everyday player for a team, both with his bat and his receiving skills, he’s proven this season that he can also be an extremely valuable asset and teammate in his advice and opinions as Wilson Ramos and, after Rodriguez went down with the strain, Jesus Flores, got the bulk of the playing time.
“He’s been a good mentor for the young catchers,” Johnson said. “This is one of the most solid catching cores in all of baseball from top to bottom. He understood the situation (with Ramos and Flores) and was very supportive of that. He’s just a true professional. He wants to play every day, there’s no question in my mind.
“Ideally I’d love to see him play everyday. This is the least I could do to let him play today and also the last game of the season.”
Rodriguez will be a free agent after the season and is just 158 hits away from No. 3,000 in his career. He’s already far and away the catcher with the most hits in major league history but 3,000 hits is an important goal for him. He’s looking for a situation next year that will allow him consistent playing time and there’s a chance that place may well not be in Washington with Ramos establishing himself as the team’s No. 1 catcher.
“I think Ramos is head and shoulders our No. 1 catcher,” Johnson said. “He seems like he’s getting stronger (as the year goes on). He’s established, as far as I’m concerned, that he’s our No. 1.”
Rodriguez will still start on Wednesday in Florida, where he won the 2003 World Series with the Florida Marlins. He and Livan Hernandez (who won the 1997 World Series with the Marlins) will then participate in the team’s on-field ceremonies as they close down Sun Life Stadium for the last time. The Marlins are moving into a new stadium next year in Miami.