On Monday, the Nationals placed catcher Ivan Rodriguez on the 15-day DL due to lower back pain. Pudge will be out until Jun. 8, forcing the 14-time All-Star out of action for the potential debut of pitching super-prospect Stephen Strasburg.
Rodriguez, 38, had been hitting .325, first among catchers in the National League, with one homer and 16 RBI. He was third in this year's most recent All-Star voting tally, behind only Yadier Molina of the Cardinals and Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies. Back-up catcher Wil Nieves will take over the everyday catching duties until Pudge returns.
Nieves last year played in a career-high 72 games and hit .259 with one homer and 26 RBI in part-time duty for the Nationals. This year, Nieves has struggled offensively, hitting only .224 (13 for 58) with one homer and 5 RBI.
To replace him on the roster, the Nationals have promoted catcher Carlos Maldonado to the 25-man roster. Maldonado had been hitting .218 with one homer and 9 RBI for Triple-A Syracuse. The Nationals have struggled with catching depth since the injury 2 years ago to Jesus Flores, who is still months away from making a return to Major League action as he recovers from major shoulder surgery. Earlier in the year, the Nationals had signed veteran catcher Chris Coste to serve as the emergency catcher stored in Syracuse, but Coste had season-ending Tommy John surgery earlier this season.
For his career, Maldonado has played in only 21 career games, and none since 2007, when he played in 13 for the Pirates, hitting .208 (5 for 24) with 2 homers and 4 RBI. However, Maldonado did catch both of Stephen Strasburg's first two starts at Syracuse. In those outings, Strasburg went 2-0 in 12 innings, allowing no runs on one hit while striking out 13.
This really is too bad for Pudge. He'd been playing so well and was another highlight to the spectacular bargain-bin work Mike Rizzo has been doing as a general manager. Nieves did a decent job last year, and he can do fine in the short term as a fill-in for Rodriguez. However, this back issue has been around all year for Pudge, so if it turns more serious, they'll need to go hunting for help.
As for Maldonado, he's up as just a back-up. I wouldn't read into those numbers with Strasburg on the mound. You could've put a cardboard cutout of Paris Hilton with a glove attached and he would've been just as dominate. Maybe Riggleman gives Maldo the starts when Strasburg makes his debut, but otherwise I wouldn't expect much.