Saturday, April 2, 2011, 1:12 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
Though Jim Riggleman insisted all spring Ivan Rodriguez would be his Opening Day catcher, the Washington Nationals manager never said Rodriguez would be his everyday catcher this season.
Sure enough, in the season's second game, Wilson Ramos was behind the plate as the Nationals begin to transition the 23-year-old into a more regular role.
The plan for now, Riggleman said, is to have Rodriguez, 39, and Ramos split the job 50-50. Neither will be designated at the team's No. 1 catcher.
"I think we literally kind of have two No. 1's there," the manager said before Saturday's game against the Atlanta Braves. "Right now, I think we're going to move towards that."
Over time, the Nationals hope Ramos ascends to the leading role, a scenario that would force Rodriguez to the bench more regularly and could create a sticky situation for the club and one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.
Riggleman, though, made a preemptive move in talking to Rodriguez Friday, a meeting the manager called "one of the best conversations I've ever had with a ballplayer since I've been managing."
Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove Award winner, has willingly accepted his new role and wants to serve as a mentor to Ramos.
"He's the future of our ballclub," Rodriguez said. "I'm here to work with him. I don't have no problem with that. ... The most important thing for me is to help the ballclub."
Rodriguez, who is 183 hits shy of 3,000 for his career, said he thinks he can continue to play for another three or four years and is willing to do it as a backup in Washington.
"Absolutely," he said. "I would love to. There's still a lot of baseball in me. I feel like I can help this team in so many ways: in the field, off the field, with my teammates. ... I would like to finish here. That's my goal, to stay here and accomplish my goals I want to accomplish: be in another playoffs, another World Series and reach 3,000 hits."
Whether the Nationals are interested in retaining Rodriguez (entering the final year of his two-year, 6 million deal) is another question. The club has two more young catchers in the minors (Jesus Flores, Derek Norris) who figure into the organization's long-term plans.
A more likely scenario would have Rodriguez playing well enough during the first half of this season to entice another club into acquiring him before the July 31 trade deadline.
All of this, of course, assumes Ramos develops into the kind of catcher the Nationals hoped they were getting when they acquired him from the Minnesota Twins for closer Matt Capps last summer. The Venezuelan native had a productive spring, hitting .354 in 20 games.
"I'm very excited for this opportunity," Ramos said. "I was waiting for this. I will learn with Pudge, he's going to teach me a lot. I want to learn with him so I will try to do the best I can."
Mark Zuckerman also blogs about the Nationals at natsinsider.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MarkZuckerman.