Ivan Rodriguez will be the Nationals’ starting catcher at age 39

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Washington’s former catcher of the future Jesus Flores is finally healthy after missing nearly two years with shoulder problems and current catcher of the future Wilson Ramos is just about MLB-ready after spending last season at Triple-A, yet manager Jim Riggleman announced today that Ivan Rodriguez will be the starter behind the plate:

We’re going to go out there and Pudge is going to continue to lead our ball club as a leader behind the plate, a good hitter, just a good baseball player. He’s got a lot of baseball left. So he’s our catcher.

Rodriguez was once a great player and he remains very good at throwing out runners, but to call him “a good hitter” at this point is just silly. He batted .266 with a ghastly .294 on-base percentage and punchless .347 slugging percentage in 421 plate appearances last season, homering just four times, posting a terrible 66/16 K/BB ratio, and grounding into 25 double plays. Among the 205 players who batted at least 400 times his .640 OPS ranked 193rd. He’s also 39 years old and wasn’t any better in 2009, hitting .249 with a .663 OPS.

For their sanity this season and the team’s long-term success Nationals fans should hope that Flores or Ramos eventually steals the starting job from Rodriguez, who at this stage of his career (and on a team in rebuilding mode) seems like a much better fit as a prospect-mentoring backup. Here’s how Riggleman envisions the backup’s role:

Whoever wins that second spot is going to get incorporated into the lineup more and more as we go along,. Whether it’s Ramos or Flores, they’re very talented guys that we’re not going let them die on the vine. They got to get playing time. Whichever guy is there, they’re going to get playing time and stay sharp, and as the year goes on, probably get a little more playing time.

Well, that’s better at least.

Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post speculates that the loser of the backup battle will head to Triple-A, which seemingly makes Flores the early favorite given that he’s two years older and has significant big-league experience. Another option is that the Nationals could look to trade Flores if he proves healthy this spring, as plenty of teams could use a 26-year-old catcher with some offensive upside.

Adrian Beltre cleared for extended spring training

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Adrian Beltre has been on the disabled list all year because of nagging right calf strain, but he’s about to take a big step toward getting back to action.

Beltre has been cleared to begin playing in extended spring training games. He’ll commence them tomorrow at the Rangers facility in Surprise, Arizona. After three games the team’s doctors will reevaluate him. If things go well, he’ll likely be sent off for a full minor league rehab assignment.

Joey Gallo has filled in for Beltre all season, bringing a lot of power but not much else to the table. While Beltre is 38, his all-around game would be welcomed back on the field and his leadership would be welcomed back in the Rangers clubhouse. On a personal note, Beltre is only 58 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.

Barring a setback, he’ll be back with the big club in early June and will hit the milestone eventually.

Michael Bourn opts out of his minor league deal with the Orioles

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Outfielder Michael Bourn was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles late last season and hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with them through the end of the season. While that’s not enough to outweigh the miserable season he had in Arizona, it was enough to get the O’s to give him a look in spring training with a minor league deal. They signed him to one in late February.

Then, a couple of days later, Bourn broke his finger while playing catch with a football. Unable to play, the O’s cut him. In early April, once Bourn healed, the O’s signed him again. He played 11 games for their Triple-A affiliate and went 9-for-41 with ten walks in 51 plate appearances. While that makes for a decent OBP, his lack of any sort of pop or good contact suggests that if someone throws him strikes, he can’t do much with the ball.

As such, the O’s had not called him up to Baltimore. And as a result of that, Bourn exercised his opt-out rights and became a free agent.

Someone may take a look at him given that his batting eye seems to be intact and given that, in an admittedly small sample size, he still performed last season. But if he does get a look, it’ll likely be back at the minor league level.