LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) – Astros players are raving about the pending addition of catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

“He’s a veteran guy that knows how to play the game,” Carlos Lee said. “He’s one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game.”

Houston is closing in a $1.5 million, one-year contract with the 13-time Gold Glove winner, a deal that likely won’t be completed until he’s finished playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

The Astros needed a veteran catcher to replace Brad Ausmus, who became a free agent and signed with the Dodgers. Last year, the Astros used Ausmus, Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles behind the plate.

“I don’t have any feelings about it,” said Quintero, who had been the projected starter. “I’m going to keep working hard. I can’t do anything about it. I’m happy for him to be here and help the team.”

Quintero tried to look at the positive side of the move.

“I’ll learn something from him, like I learned from Brad last year,” Quintero said. “Brad taught me everything last year and I’m going to learn something different this year.”

Rodriguez spent 12 seasons with the Rangers before going to Florida where he won a World Series in 2003. While the Astros need the defensive skills of Rodriguez, they certainly aren’t overlooking what he can add on offense.

Rodriguez hit .276 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 115 games last season with Detroit and the Yankees, who acquired him in July.

“I think it will help the team,” Lee said. “I think he’s going to create a better balance in the lineup. He’s a guy who can hit in several different positions.”

Having Pudge in Houston will be a treat for Astros right fielder Hunter Pence, who as a child watched Rodriguez play for the Rangers.

“He was one of my favorites growing up in Arlington,” he said. “So I’m very excited about it. I watched a lot of Rangers games and I loved Pudge. He was an incredible catcher.”

Several Astros have been impressed with Rodriguez’s work in the WBC.

“He’s in great shape and ready to go,” Lee said. “He’s hitting the ball good. I definitely think that was a terrific pickup for the team.”

Notes: Houston optioned RHP Felipe Paulino to Triple-A Round Rock on Tuesday. … OF Jason Michaels will be limited to pinch hitting or designated hitting for the next few days due to discomfort in his left hamstring.

AP-ES-03-17-09 1513EDT

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