Washington, DC—The Washington Nationals unwrapped their shiny new toy today just in time for the holidays. The team introducing 14-time All-Star, 13-time Gold Glove winner Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez to the media today at a press conference held at blustery Nationals Park.
First, let's get this out of the way: the man really shouldn't be called "Pudge" anymore. His features on his face and neck are as chiseled as any marble statue. There's nothing pudgy about him, as even Mike Rizzo mentioned his "five percent body fat."
Anyway, Rizzo and Rodriguez were both introduced and made brief opening comments. Rodriguez then donned his familiar No. 7 jersey for all to photograph, then both took questions from the smallish press contingent, perhaps made smaller by the 90 minute delay in the festivities.
Pudge's preliminary comments were: "It's an honor for me to be here today. I want to say thanks to the Washington Nationals' organization for giving me the opportunity to be with the Nationals for the next two seasons."
"My goal is just bring my experience into the ball club, as a baseball player, and be ready to play in the field. I'm a player that I love to win, I love to play hard in the field, and I look forward to my teammates doing the same thing when we play."
On his influence on the young pitching staff: "Spring Training is for that, to work with the pitcher. I know that I've never seen, I've never caught them, but at the same time, communication is very important, you know, in Spring Training we want to sit down and first of all, I want to talk to them and see what they like to do, how they like to pitch, and then we go from there."
"I'm not a difficult catcher, I just try to things very simple for the pitcher, so I just go with what they feel comfortable and we go from there."
On playing time: "Well I'm ready to play every day. I'm a player that can still play every day and I will play every day and basically do my best for the club. I know it's hard for me to play 162 games, that's impossible for a catcher. But as long as I'm healthy, feeling great physically, I'll be in the field playing."
"I'm a guy that I take care of myself very well; I'm keeping myself in good shape. And I'm gonna be in spring training in February ready. Those decisions are not in my control. My control is just to go to spring training in good shape and be ready mentally and physically to play on an everyday basis."
On working with Jesus Flores: "We're all teammates, and the goal is winning games. He's a talented player, hits very well, good catcher, and I'm sure that we're going to talk a lot. He's a guy that, I've talked to him before, he comes to me and says hello to me when we're against (each other)...and he's a very nice guy."
"So I look forward to talk to him, and whatever he needs, I'm here for that, but the most important thing is that we're here to win, we're here for one goal, just to win and have a good season and be in the playoffs in October."
On similarities with Detroit (signing with 100-plus loss team): "When I sign with Detroit in 2004, I think I see this team (Nationals) is better than 2004 in Detroit."
"Coming here my goal is to put my piece in the team and to support the whole team and win ballgames."
Rizzo on Jesus Flores: "Jesus Flores is still rehabbing [from shoulder surgery]. It's been passed along to me yesterday that he should be full—go, ready to go by the beginning of spring training. We'll go to spring training with that in mind, but in the past, specifically with arm surgeries and labrum surgeries, we go into kind of cautiously optimistic."
Overall, the impression Rodriguez left is that he is ready to play every day. Whether or not he's treated as an everyday player comes down to two things: Flores' health and manager Jim Riggleman's whim filling out the lineup card.
My recorder stopped working at some point during the festivities, but after the press conference was over, Rodriguez and Rizzo were both available to the media.
Rodriguez maintained his desire to play regularly, citing his good health and desire to win and play the game the right way. He also mentioned a goal of reaching 3000 hits, of which he's just 289 hits shy.
"You have to play 27 hard outs every game."
Rizzo was asked about Rodriguez's reaction to his playing status, and responded that Pudge is a 14-time All-Star; that he thinks his skills are still intact; and that he will be a "significant contributor" to the ball club, but whether it's 70, 80, 90, or 100 games, that will be answered as they go through the summer.
I specifically asked Rizzo if he looked at Pudge's splits from last summer, in a season where he hit .249/.280/.384 overall. He had couple of months where his numbers were slightly lower that his career numbers would indicate (career .336 OBP), but nothing alarming, and he had a couple of really poor months.
Rizzo indicated that yes, they looked at that, and attributed that "somewhat" to playing as often as he did, especially during the first half of the season with Houston.
Rizzo concluded, "The best problem I could have all season is, 'Who of these two hot catchers (Pudge or Flores) are we going to play on an everyday basis?'"
So to recap: Pudge is preparing as if he's going to be the everyday catcher, and Rizzo said the doctors indicate that Flores should be ready for spring training, but we'll have to see how Flores' arm responds at that point.
Drama at the catcher position? It's a good problem to have, if Rodriguez is up to the task.
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