Pudge focusing on all aspects
Perfect day at plate vs. Braves boosts Rodriguez's confidence
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Brandon Inge talked last weekend about the challenge of hitting and catching, Ivan Rodriguez understood.
It's a hefty job, and after 17 Major League seasons, it's not any easier for Rodriguez. When he comes into camp in the shape that he's in at age 36, that's just the start of his work.
"That's why I say to myself sometimes it's hard to believe what I do," Rodriguez said. "I have to work with the pitchers. I have to do my defense. I have to do my offense. I have to work two jobs, and sometimes it's not an easy thing to do. But I'm very pleased with what I do. I love what I do, and I want to continue doing it."
Not many people Rodriguez's age get to enjoy what he's doing. But no matter what the age, the approach to camp is the same. He tries not to think of them as two jobs all the time. Instead, he focuses on all the aspects as one.
Nonetheless, Rodriguez has a rough idea in his mind when he wants to start putting his game together. After all the work behind the plate catching side sessions and learning pitchers and getting back into game mode, this, he says, is his time to focus on refining his swing.
"I know there's two and a half weeks before the season starts," Rodriguez said. "Now is the right time. It's the right moment to start to work at the plate and start to do the things that we have to do for the season. With two weeks, there's probably going to be 15 to 25 more at-bats. What I want to do, what everybody wants to do, is just adjust to every at-bat and concentrate on getting a good pitch to hit."
He had been having a rough start at the plate this spring statistically, but on a humid afternoon at Disney World, Rodriguez put on one of those shows that remind people what kind of hitter he has been and can be at times. It wasn't simply the 3-for-3 performance, or the fact that all three hits went for extra bases to the outfield fence or beyond. It was the way he spread them around the field and the way he approached his at-bats.
Rodriguez entered the day 2-for-16 on the spring and hitless in his last six at-bats. A home run Tuesday was his only hit since Feb. 28, and he was 0-for-4 the next day.
Batting leadoff with Curtis Granderson off against lefty Mike Hampton, Rodriguez started the game by pulling a line drive that one-hopped to the fence just inside the left-field line as he jogged into second base. He scored on a double-play grounder three batters later.
Leading off the third against right-hander Manny Acosta, Rodriguez went for the other line, lining a ball with authority down near the chalk for another double. Carlos Guillen singled him in.
With one out and one on in the fourth, Rodriguez was back to facing a lefty. This time, he took reliever Will Ohman deep to left for his second home run of the spring.
"I thought he stayed on the ball real well, and I liked what happened," manager Jim Leyland said. "He hit one down the left-field line, he hit one down the right-field line and he hit a home run."
That was it for Rodriguez. Leyland has been leading off Rodriguez often this spring so he can get three at-bats a day with as little wear and tear as possible behind the plate. But given his conditioning, fatigue isn't as big of a factor for him as his age might suggest.
"I'm happy with the way I feel right now," Rodriguez said. "I feel very strong. That's the most important thing, how you feel. I feel very strong, very good, physically and mentally."
The key for Rodriguez, certainly at the plate, will be his discipline.
"We've talked about this, so I'm not telling tales out of school," Leyland said. "When Pudge hits it in the strike zone, he's a good hitter -- a tremendous hitter. When he chases bad balls, he doesn't hit. Nobody else does, either. When he's seeing the ball, picking it up, he's really good."
That comes down in part to concentration and approach, especially given a strikeout-to-walk ratio that had pitchers trying to get Rodriguez to chase once he got to two strikes. To expect high walk totals is unrealistic, but the key for Rodriguez is selection and contact. When he hits the ball, he obviously wants to hit it hard.
That's part of Rodriguez's focus in camp, certainly now, but it can't be all of it. At the same time, he's helping the starting pitchers round into shape while learning some of the other arms in camp. On Friday, he was paired again with Kenny Rogers, as he has so many times since they were teammates in 1991.
That's the balance he strikes each spring. He has talked with Inge to give him support, and he's going through it himself.
"It's not the way that I'm hitting. It's just everything overall," Rodriguez said, "from calling a good game to making the pitcher feel comfortable to blocking balls to controlling the bases to hitting the ball hard. Just concentrate on winning games. It's all in one package there. As long as I keep that [focus] in my routine of playing baseball, I'll be fine.
"I need to do everything right. I need to work hard and keep my defense there every day and try to keep my offense there every day. It's an important year for me, and what I have to do is just do the things I've got to do, offensively and defensively, to make the team win."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.