PHILADELPHIA — There's Ivan Rodriguez, in the outfield early in the afternoons, running sprints. He's in the batting cage, in the weight room, back in the batting cage. He's working. He's just not playing.
Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson made it clear to Rodriguez when he came back from a right oblique strain earlier this month, an injury that cost him nearly two months, he wouldn't play much. With six games left, Rodriguez's career in a Nationals uniform may now be down to two final starts.
For much of this month, Rodriguez (.212, 2 HR, 19 RBI) has been under the impression his season was over, but Johnson came to him early this week and told him of his plans for two more starts. He could pick the days. Rodriguez chose Sunday, the Nationals' home finale, and Wednesday, the season finale and final baseball game to be played at Sun Life Stadium.
"Hopefully I'll be back here next year," Rodriguez said. "But if not, I thought it'd be something nice for the fans to see me play [Sunday] for the last home game of the season. And it'll be nice for the fans [in Florida] to see me there, at the last game of the stadium, the place that I won the World Series."
When that's over, though, and both the season and the fanfare from the Marlins' celebratory final weekend has ended, he'll have a decision to make. Rodriguez plans to play winter ball in Puerto Rico and expects to play in the big leagues next season. The Nationals have not yet approached him about a deal, and Rodriguez is looking for a landing spot that will allow him significant playing time.
"I just want to play, to be honest with you," Rodriguez said. "I just want to get some at-bats and playing time. I feel like I can do a good job and still do a good job for this team, any team. I know that Wilson is a tremendous player and he needs to play. I don't have an issue with that because he's a No. 1 catcher, he's doing a hell of a job offensively and defensively."
The only thing he knows for sure is that this is not the end.
"Let's see," he said. "I don't know what [general manager Mike Rizzo] is thinking, and I don't know what the organization is thinking, but the thing that I can tell you is that I am not retiring. I still have a lot of baseball left, many years left."
Rodriguez wouldn't put a firm number on how many more years he intends to play, brushing off suggestions of three or four but making note that getting to 3,000 hits - and winning another World Series - are the two most important things on his list.
He's 158 hits shy of the milestone but hasn't had one since July 2 in the second game of a doubleheader against Pittsburgh.
"You never know," he said. "The only thing I can say is that the passion, the love of the game, I've got it and I'm feeling great. Physically and mentally, I'm feeling great. When you feel that way, you've got to continue to play. I just want to have the opportunity. If I get that opportunity, I will do a good job. Offensively, defensively, I will produce. That's for sure.
"That goal of 3,000 hits is very close. I'm right there.... I don't want to feel sorry later and say 'I was very close to that.' I'd rather keep trying and keep playing and get to that goal. Win one more [World Series] and after that, I did it all."
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