When Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut last night for the Washington Nationals, the catcher behind the plate was Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez.
It is interesting but early yesterday morning, neither Strasburg or Rodriguez were on the Nationals active roster. Strasburg had yet to be promoted and Rodriguez had yet to be activated from the disabled list.
But the phenom was promoted and the future Hall of Famer was activated. It was a game the HOFer Rodriguez did not want to miss.
Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said that there was no way that Pudge was going to miss this game, but he still had to go through the machinations of getting clearance from the medical staff.
The young Nationals starting staff of John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, Scott Olsen (before demotion) were big reasons for the Nationals signing Pudge. Even young pitchers in Triple A such as J.D. Martin and Shairon Martis will eventually benefit from Pudge’s expertise behind the plate.
But the real reason was last night’s starting pitcher, Mr. Strasburg.
I remember there was not a lot of positive news when the Nats signed Pudge last December at baseball’s winter meetings. People were ripping him here, here and here, with the last one a big rip of the deal from former Nationals GM Jim Bowden.
All those quotes and blather from Bowden kind of makes him look like a buffoon.
The problem for many pundits was not that he was signed, but the duration of two years and the total cost of $6 million was deemed too much. Pudge did not hit very well last season in two major league stops in Houston and Texas. His slash line of .249/.280/.384/.664 OPS was easily the worst of his career.
And it continued a decline from his last really good offensive season, in 2004, his first season in Detroit.
That is understandable, but current Nationals GM, Mike Rizzo, had other ideas when he signed Pudge.
Once again for Mr. Strasburg and company. It has not been the first time Pudge was acquired with the intentions of having him work with a young pitching staff.
In the aforementioned 2004 contract with Detroit, Pudge signed a 4 year/$40 million deal to help the Tigers build a winner. The Tigers were coming off one of the worst seasons for any baseball team in history. They already had some bats, but six Tigers pitchers in 2003 had double-digit starts, and all were 26 and under.
Included in this group were 23-year-old Mike Maroth and 20-year-old Jeremy Bonderman, who was the key player the Tigers picked up in the Jeff Weaver to the New York Yankees deal. Nate Robertson would join the rotation in 2004, the same year Justin Verlander was drafted by the Tigers.
Three seasons into his contract, and the Tigers were in the World Series,with a staff anchored by the youngsters Verlander, Robertson and Bonderman.
Prior to signing with the Tigers, Pudge helped the Florida Marlins win the 2003 World Series, his only season in sunny South Florida.
And make no mistake about it, but Pudge was a hired gun, a mercenary player brought in for one thing – help develop a young pitching staff. That staff included Josh Beckett (age 22), Brad Penny (24), A.J. Burnett (25), Ryan Dempster (25) and Carl Pavano (26).
And they did win the World Series, with Pudge being a big part of the post season, both with the staff and the bat.
So the Nationals remembered those two instances and figured if it was good for the Marlins and the Tigers, why can’t Pudge be good for them, too? Plus, I-Rod is also producing with the bat, slashing at a .331/.356/.449/.815 OPS.
Combined with the good bat and last night’s performance by the new pitching phenom, so far so good with Pudge’s signing.
And Jim Bowden is left wondering why he is not a major league GM anymore.