Alex Cora will keep playing in 2012

On the list of current players who could manage in the major leagues, Nationals utility infielder Alex Cora’s name would be right near or at the top. Teams inquired this offseason about his interest in managing, and General Manager Mike Rizzo has said he would be interested in Cora as a coach once his playing days finish.

But that will have wait. Cora said today that after his 14th season, he will keep playing in 2012 and beyond.

“I’ll be playing” next year, Cora said. “I’m only 36. Whenever people talk about the future, you better hold it, because I’m going to be playing until I don’t feel I can play well. I feel like I can contribute and help teams out. In my mind, there’s no doubt about that.”

Rizzo signed Cora to a minor league contract this winter, in part, to help mentor middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, which unfolded just as Rizzo hoped. He was also the rare utility infielder who batted left-handed.

On the field, Cora helped replace third baseman Ryan Zimmerman when he went on the disabled list for two months. He’s hitting .212/.282/.258 over 155 at-bats and has started only four games since the all-star break. Cora has primarily served as a pinch-hitter in the latter portion of the season, a role for which he is miscast. He’s 5 for 31 as a pinch-hitter this season.

“I know my job,” Cora said. “When the third baseman got hurt for a long period of time, I think I did my job. If you want to judge me for whatever numbers, I’m not a pinch-hitter. Obviously, that’s not my strength. Offense has never been my strength. When he got hurt, me and Jerry did a great job. We kept the team afloat. That’s what you have to do. The other two kids, they played great. They were healthy the whole year.”

The Nationals made it a priority to give Desmond and Espinosa as much playing time as they could, not only because they were their best option but also to give them more experience with the grind of the season. Even spot starts dried up for Cora, leading Manager Davey Johnson to actually apologize to Cora, he said.

“In the second half, it was a lot less,” Cora said. “He talked to me and explained to me. The focus kind of changed at one point in the season. I had no problem with that. He grabbed me and told me. He kind of like apologized about the way he was using me. You still got to show up and do your work and help the kids out. Hopefully, I helped them out.”

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