VIERA FL - FEBRUARY 25: Wilson Ramos #3 of the Washington Nationals poses for a portrait during Spring Training Photo Day at Space Coast Stadium on February 25 2011 in Viera Florida. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman spoke to 39-year-old future Hall of Fame catcher Pudge Rodriguez about how things will work going forward this season behind the plate between Rodriguez and his 23-year-old protege Wilson Ramos. Riggleman and Rodriguez had what the manager described in this morning's pregame press conference as, "a great conversation yesterday with Pudge to talk to him about where this is going. Because with all the respect you've got to give Pudge, he's a Hall of Famer, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he still does a great job behind the plate, blocks balls, we're going to get in a situation and Pudge is...it's kind of one of those things where he's putting the words in my mouth before I can finish the sentence. He completely understands that we have to develop [Wilson] Ramos' game."
"[Ramos is] a young guy that is going to break in and we don't really want to break him in catching minimal games," Riggleman said, "So there's going to be a lot of days that Ramos is out there and Pudge is completely on board with that, Pudge wants to be a National, he wants to do whatever it takes. I think sometimes, probably myself, coaches, all of us who are not in uniform make the assumption that this is going to be a really tough transition, but until you talk to the player, you don't know. And when I talked to him, he wants to do whatever it takes for the Nationals to be the best we can be and however he can best help the ballclub, and it's one of the better conversations I've ever had with a ballplayer since I've been managing, he was just first class and it really just speaks to the quality of individual that he is."
"Ramos is a guy that we really have great expectations for him and I really don't want him to have a situation like we had in the Spring where he would have a couple days off between starts," Riggleman explained, "I thought that he played a lot better in the Spring when he got consecutive days, when he only had a day off, if he had two off, he's a young hitter I think that needs to see some action, so he and Pudge will be splitting it up here quite a bit early."
For the first few weeks at least, it will be Rodriguez and Ramos alternating starts, "The way it shakes out here the first three series, it will be every other day," Riggleman said. Pudge Rodriguez will be available as an emergency first baseman, though he's played just seven games there over the course of his career. "Whenever the time came for the great players in the game, and he is...if he's not the greatest catcher ever he's right there in the converstation," Riggleman said of the career transition period Pudge has entered, but, "at some point you've got to make a decision. Are you going to accept being the no.2 guy, or are you going to retire? And he certainly has no intentions of retiring, he's got a lot of baseball left in him."
So is Wilson Ramos effectively the no.1 catcher? "No, we literally kind of have two no.1's," Riggleman said, "We're going to move towards [Ramos being no.1], but we don't want to count our chickens too early here. We still have to play Ramos, we just can't assume that he's going to go out there and overwhelm the league or something. It's kind of like what we get with the thoughts on, when you talk about Bryce Harper, it kind of gets like, well let's just send him to Cooperstown, never mind playing, so we've got to let [Ramos] play."