Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Slumping Pudge tries to stay upbeat

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ivan Rodriguez has fallen into a prolonged slump after his hot start to the season.
CINCINNATI -- Over the course of 20 seasons in the big leagues, Ivan Rodriguez has experienced every possible scenario on the baseball field and in the clubhouse. He's won, he's lost, he's gone through hot streaks, he's gone through long slumps.

And in that time, Pudge knows one thing for certain about dealing with prolonged lows.

"You cannot be frustrated," he said. "If you're frustrated, things are going to be worse."

How can the Nationals, though, not be frustrated the way things have played out since the All-Star break? Four games, three losses, six total runs scored. That should cause anybody in uniform to pull out whatever remaining hair he has.

Rodriguez insists these Nationals haven't fallen into that trap. They remain upbeat, despite plenty of reason not to be.

"Absolutely," he said. "Absolutely. Of course. Nobody here gives up. I've never seen nobody here with their head down or giving up. Nobody. There's still a lot of games to go. This is a good team and a good organization. We're going to just keep playing."

Good luck finding anyone outside the Nats' clubhouse who believes something special is still possible from a club that has posted a 10-22 record over the last six weeks and has yet to win eight of 10 at any point this season.

Whatever positive energy that was generated through the first segment of this year has long since dissipated, leaving behind a flawed ballclub that has several nice pieces but not a championship-caliber roster of 25. There are just too many obvious holes, whether at the back end of the rotation, at second base, in the outfield, on the bench.

And behind the plate.

Yes, one of the Nationals' biggest areas of concern right now is the catching position, and Rodriguez is front and center. Remember when he was hitting .340 and looking like a 28-year-old version of himself, not a 38-year-old version? Those days are no more.

Over his last 39 games, Rodriguez is batting .216 with a .243 on-base percentage and a pathetic .274 slugging percentage. He's also hit into 18 double plays this season, one behind Pablo Sandoval for the National League lead, and ground into a pair of twin-killings during tonight's 7-2 loss to the Reds.

"Baseball is a game that is up and down," Pudge said. "When it's down, you have to keep working hard. And when you're doing fine, just try to keep it there. But everybody knows it's not going to be there all of the time. When it's not there, you have to keep working. You have to do some things, go to the video and see things that are going to help you to do the job up there."

In one respect, it's not fair to expect so much out of Rodriguez. The Nats never wanted him to play this much at his age. The plan back in December was to have the veteran split time with Jesus Flores. That was, of course, assuming Flores and his surgically repaired shoulder ever made it out of Viera (they still haven't).

And with the even-less-potent Wil Nieves as his backup catcher, Jim Riggleman has no choice but to play Rodriguez three out of every four games and hope he regains his stroke.

"When you hit into double plays, you're hitting the ball hard," Riggleman said. "He's just been unfortunate. He's hitting balls right at people. I'm confident with his track record of hitting, he's going to find his pace there."

So Rodriguez keeps plugging away, trying to remain upbeat and trying to help his team escape the shackles of as rough an offensive funk as you'll ever find in this sport.

It's the only way he knows how to play this game.

"We've got great talent, man," he said. "Great talent, a great group of guys. But we've got to just keep playing. We've got to come every single day with a positive mind, a strong mind and ready to play."


Witboy said...

Pop Quiz...
How long has it been since any Nationals pitcher not named Stephen Strasburg has earned a win?

If you guessed 13 days, you are correct!

No pressure kid!

Anonymous said...

There are just too many obvious holes, whether at the back end of the rotation, at second base, in the outfield, on the bench.

And in the manager's office. A good manager would react to the situation by making some obvious changes, like Bernadina to center, Morse to left, and Pudge batting lower in the order so that his GIDPs don't end up killing so many potential rallies when the 3-4-5 guys do manage to get on base. But Riggleman clearly is not a good manager.

Anonymous said...

Pudge is the least of our worries, how about CF, RF, 2B, SS, 4 other starting pitchers, not to mention what the future holds for Dunn and Willingham! 100 losses here we come!!

Bowdenball said...

Anonymous 8:07-

I don't like your priorities. Sure, Riggleman's decisions may not give the team the best chance of "winning," per se. But he got Willie Harris some at-bats yesterday! And they guys are trying really really super-duper hard to do their best. Isn't that what's most important?

I also heard he took the whole team out for a pizza party at Shakey's after the game last night.

Anonymous said...

What are we going to do about the catcher position next year? Will we rely on a 39 year old catcher? Flores may be finished. Nieves can't be the answer. No one seems ready in the Minors to step up.

It seems to me that "The Plan" is not working and that we may be in for many more years of losses.

Doc said...

Mark, I agree its not Pudge's fault. He was not expected to be playing this much. The guy is a consumate pro, and the Nats are lucky to have his presence. If he were working more in tandem with another and younger quality receiver, you'd see a different Pudge.

As it is, he is still up there in the stats of catchers throwing runners out! Way to go Pudge!!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Pudge's defense more than compensates for his offense even if he hits .216 the rest of the season (which is unlikely since he puts nearly every ball in play and hits a fair number of line drives). Unfortunately, everyone is also right that we don't really have anyone who can step up and replace him, especially if Harper does end up in RF. It's not like there are a lot of good free agent catchers either.

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