ARLINGTON -- Ivan Rodriguez caught Nolan Ryan and Kevin Brown as a teenage rookie behind the plate in Texas. He caught Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett in Florida, caught Kenny Rogers in the World Series with Detroit and caught Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera during his brief time with the Yankees. To him, Justin Verlander is one of the best he caught.
More than that, he's one of the best Pudge has seen.
"The Nolan Ryans, the Kevin Browns, the Pedro Martinezes, Randy Johnson, all those guys, he's right there with them," Rodriguez said. "Not close. He's right there with them."
Rodriguez was back in Texas for ceremonies Saturday night as part of the Rangers' 40th Anniversary All-Time Team. With the Tigers in town, it gave him the chance to catch up with one of his other former teams. He stopped by the Tigers' clubhouse before batting practice and caught up with Jim Leyland and coaches, as well as some of the players he remembered.
Verlander was another story, since he was pitching Saturday night. But Rodriguez had the chance to watch him go to work.
"I've never liked to say No. 1, because I've caught so many good ones," Rodriguez said. "But he's an awesome pitcher. For me, right now, today, he's the best pitcher in the game, the way he can control the game, the way he faces the hitter. He's not afraid of anybody. He challenges everybody because he knows he has enough fastball to get everybody out. When you have a guy that can give six, seven, eight, nine innings, pretty much all the time, and throw over 120 pitches, you have to say he's the best."
He's also a fan of the guy who catches most of Verlander's games these days. Alex Avila still has the catching mitt Rodriguez gave him when he first converted to catcher at the University of Alabama. Rodriguez says he has followed him.
"I think he's a very good catcher," Rodriguez said. "He's a good receiver. He calls the game very well. He's a great player, good hitter. He reminds me a lot [of myself], but [hitting] from the opposite side. He hits the other way with authority. He'll hit the ball in the gaps. I think the way he catches, the way he's calling games and receiving the ball, throwing the ball -- he made a great play yesterday, one-hop perfect throw to second base -- that tells you how good he is.
"He has a tremendous future in front of him. He's going to have some great years in front of him, and I love the way he plays the game."
Leyland gives Lamont green light to take chances
ARLINGTON -- The focus on Austin Jackson's inside-the-park home run Friday was the way Jackson gained speed rounding second and left Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler with almost no play short of a perfect throw home. Manager Jim Leyland went out of his way to praise third-base coach Gene Lamont's early, decisive call to send him home.
It was an avenue into Leyland's defense of Lamont, who has taken his share of criticism from fans this year on runners thrown out at home plate.
"There's not a better third-base coach in the American League than Gene Lamont. That's all I know," Leyland said. "I'll argue that with anybody. I don't use the word best, but there's nobody better than him. He's good.
"He knows the runner. He knows the outfielders. He has the ability to make a split-second decision. He knows the score. He takes chances when you're supposed to take chances -- and you are supposed to take chances."
Lamont is one of three coaches, along with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon and infield coach Rafael Belliard, who have been with Leyland through his entire seven-year tenure in Detroit. He's Leyland's longtime friend, and he's regarded as Leyland's closest confidant on discussing in-game decisions. Essentially, he's Leyland's bench coach, but in a bigger role.
He takes chances, Leyland said, but he wants his third-base coach taking chances.
"People don't realize, in actuality, when the game starts, the third-base coach is the one most important coach you've got," Leyland said. "Everybody focuses on hitting coach or pitching coach. But when the umpire says, 'Play ball,' the third-base coach is the most important coach you've got. Trust me.
"I've been there. I've gotten them thrown out. I've made mistakes, like all third-base coaches do. But I know one thing: Never in my 21 years of managing in the Major Leagues have I ever gotten on a third-base coach. If you find that a manager's on his third-base coach, then he should get a different third-base coach, because the third-base coach will get so jittery worrying about making a mistake."
Dotel stepping up in bigger role for Tigers
ARLINGTON -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been praising Octavio Dotel and his role in the bullpen for a few weeks. Now that Leyland is trying to get his pitching staff through the recent struggles of Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit, that role might be a little bigger.
When Dotel sent down the Rangers in order on 13 pitches in the seventh inning Friday, Leyland decided to send him back out for the eighth. He gave up a hit but recovered for an eight-pitch scoreless inning, sending the game to closer Jose Valverde with a four-run lead.
It marked just the third time in 39 outings this year that Dotel has gone two full innings. Both of the other times came in late June, after Valverde had sprained his wrist and was out for a short spell.
"He's done a heck of a job," Leyland said.
What makes him work in that role, at age 38, Leyland said, is his aggressiveness.
"I think the best thing about him is he's got no fear," Leyland said. "If they hit it, they hit it, and he turns the page real good. He's a neat guy, but I think people don't realize how good of an arm he's got yet. He's got a good arm."
To Leyland, Scherzer can be 'something special'
ARLINGTON -- Max Scherzer talked about his win over the Rangers on Friday night like it was a confidence boost, holding down one of the best lineups in the American League.
"To me, you always measure yourself against the best," Scherzer said.
On Saturday, it was manager Jim Leyland's turn to measure Scherzer. His confidence in Scherzer might be a little higher.
"Max is one of those guys to me that doesn't know how high his ceiling can be if he doesn't get in the way of himself," Leyland said. "I don't mean that disrespectfully. The point I'm trying to make is, when he realizes how good he can be, there's no ceiling for him. He has a chance to be something special."
One example of Leyland's idea of getting in the way would be the way Scherzer pitched cautiously, in Leyland's opinion, to Rangers hitters in the early innings Friday.
He finished with eight strikeouts, allowing two runs on eight hits over six innings.
"He complicates it too much once in a while," Leyland continued. "That's just an opinion. Once again, I know he'll disagree. That's OK. That's the way I feel. I'm paying him a compliment, because he doesn't really realize yet how he good he is."
An error that had been charged to Miguel Cabrera from Monday's game against the Yankees has been changed to a hit. Russell Martin, who hit the ground ball in the seventh inning, challenged the call through the Major League Baseball Players Association. Justin Verlander is now charged with nine hits over eight innings from that game.
Tigers vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame on Saturday. Avila began his scouting career with the Marlins in 1998 under then-Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski and oversaw scouting efforts internationally and at home. His signings included Cabrera as well as Luis Castillo, Edgar Renteria and Alex Gonzalez.