Ivan Rodriguez and Wilson Ramos will split time

Potentially, the Nationals’ catching situation could force them to make some uncomfortable decisions. One of their catchers is Ivan Rodriguez, who’s chasing 3,000 hits and will likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when his career’s over - which the 39-year-old said won’t be for another three or four years. Their other catcher is Wilson Ramos, a 23-year-old prospect with a live bat and good skills behind the plate. The Nationals sent All-Star closer Matt Capps to Minnesota to get him at last year’s trade deadline, and they intend to use him.

They’re moving toward Ramos and away from Rodriguez, and that could cause a rift if Rodriguez hadn’t handled it so well.

The Nationals plan to have their two catchers split time, at least at the beginning of the season. And after Rodriguez and Riggleman talked yesterday, hashing out the playing situation for the first nine or 10 games of the season, both came away with a good feeling about where things are going.

Riggleman called it “one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with a player,” saying Rodriguez understood the need to play Ramos and volunteered to work with the young catcher. And Rodriguez said he wants to finish his career in Washington, adding his main concern is helping the team get better.

“We sat down and talked for a little while, talked for 10, 15 minutes. The conversation was great. He saw from me the person that I am,” Rodriguez said. “Basically, that’s the person that I am. He told me that, and we sit and we talk about things. I told him, ‘The only thing that I want is to have a better every day.’ I’m a winner. I’ve been in the playoffs, I’ve been in the World Series already. I’ve been on good teams. And I learned from those experiences. That’s what I would love to bring here, especially the young guys. It will be a good situation.”

Rodriguez played 111 games last season, which was probably more action than the Nationals expected him to get after he signed a two-year, $6 million deal at the 2009 Winter Meetings. He was hitting .340 in June, but slumped toward the end of the season as he battled a sore back, and wound up hitting .266/.294/.347.

This arrangement, though, could wind up being good for both Rodriguez and Ramos - the young catcher gets time to develop, while Rodriguez gets rest to keep him fresh.

Riggleman said Rodriguez’s only request was to know the day before he’s going to play, so he can plan his work with his personal trainer around being in the lineup. Assuming Rodriguez starts between 70 and 80 games, he’d have more time to keep his back fresh, and Riggleman said he’s looking forward to what Rodriguez can add to the dugout as almost a quasi-coach.

The thing the reduced workload will do, though, is prolong Rodriguez’s hunt for 3,000 hits. He’s currently 183 away from 3,000; assuming he gets around 250 at-bats and hits .260 this year, he’d need to keep that pace up for two more years to reach the milestone. And though he’d like to finish his career in Washington, the Nationals also have Jesus Flores at Triple-A Syracuse and Derek Norris at Double-A Harrisburg.

Still, the Nationals need to see Ramos more before assuming he can take the job on an everyday basis. He hit .278 in 22 major league games between Minnesota and Washington last year, and hit .354 this spring, but hasn’t been asked to put in a heavy workload yet.

“I’m very excited for this opportunity. I was waiting for this,” Ramos said. “I will learn with Pudge, he’s going to teach me a lot. I want to learn with him so I will try to do the best I can.”

Now Ramos, who grew up idolizing Rodriguez, will get the chance to effectively replace him as the Nationals’ No. 1 catcher. At the moment, though, Riggleman said the team has two No. 1 catchers, and they have every reason to expect the arrangement will go smoothly.

“It could be good for both of us. I’ve been here for one season,” Rodriguez said. “We get along well. I’m going to be with him all the time. I’m always keeping myself in good shape. I work hard. I’m always going to be ready to go. I’m going to still play. It’s not going to be on everyday basis, but I’m going to be playing.”