Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez has been on the DL since May 23rd with a lower back strain, and though the 38-year-old future Hall of Fame catcher is expected back this week, there's no guarantee that he'll be ready for the MLB debut of the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg, who's set to start on Tuesday night in Nationals Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Nationals' Manager Jim Riggleman provided the following updates on Pudge, who was on the field during BP, during the pregame press conference before yesterday's game against Cincinnati:
Jim Riggleman on Pudge's Return: "Yeah, I saw Pudge. He's feeling a lot better. He threw and took some swings. We're going to determine here in the next couple of days, I think his day to come off [the DL] is officially Monday, if not Tuesday, whether or not he catches here that day I'm not sure. We would like for him to catch a game probably in Potomac before he catches here, so that would mean he would possibly go out and catch a game down there, but he might not do that until Tuesday or even Wednesday, but if he was able to do that on Sunday or Monday it would be possible he would be back here for Tuesday."
Jim Riggleman on Pudge and Strasburg: "In a perfect world just because it's a unique situation here, I'd love to have Pudge here to catch [Strasburg], because I think it would mean a lot to Pudge. He's got a lot of things he's accomplished in his career and it would be another one to look back on, but that's going to be secondary to whether we think he's 100% ready to come back yet. We would like it to be the case, but we're not going to force it to be the case."
If Pudge isn't ready, the job of catching the 21-year-old right-hander will fall to either Wil Nieves, who worked with Strasburg during Spring Training, catching his debut against the Detroit Tigers, or Carlos Maldonado who was behind the plate for Strasburg's first three starts at Triple-A Syracuse. Strasburg credited Nieves, in an article by MLB.com's Bill Ladson from early March entitled, "Catcher Nieves impressed with Strasburg", with keeping him "loose" during his first Spring Training outing, telling Mr. Ladson:
"He just told me to go out there and have fun. He said, 'Trust in your stuff.' It's the same game out here. It's still 60 feet, six inches. I just tried to pound that zone."
Nieves was equally impressed with Strasburg's abilities, telling Mr. Ladson that catching Strasburg, "... is so easy because he throws a lot of strikes." The 32-year-old catcher, who filled in admirably last season, splitting time with Josh Bard when Jesus Flores was lost for the season, may be called upon to keep Strasburg calm in front of a full house in Nationals Park on Tuesday, but I wouldn't be surprised if Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez was behind the plate on Tuesday night when Strasburg throws his first Major League pitch...