Back in Texas, Pudge praises Verlander, Avila

Back in Texas, Pudge praises Verlander, Avila

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."