Rachel Levitin: As Ramos takes root, Nationals catch good fortune

When Matt Capps was traded to the Minnesota Twins last summer it was hard for even the most faithful Nats fan to think, "Gee, where's the silver lining on this trade? Why get rid of our only 2010 All-Star?"

Capps had an eventful year, including a strikeout against Red Sox power-hitter David Ortiz during the 2010 All-Star Game in Anaheim. Thanks to that strikeout, the National League won its first home-field advantage in a World Series since 1996. Capps was the Nationals' only All-Star representative.

After he was traded, I sat down to talk to MASNsports.com Nats Buzz blogger Kristen Hudak, MLB.com's Bill Ladson and Nationals Director of Community Relations Israel Negron about what kind of footprint they felt Capps had left behind during his short time as a Nationals pitcher.

They were unanimous in saying that Capps had an impact in the clubhouse, on the field, in the bullpen and in the community.

"He wanted to set an example," Hudak said.

"He was a leader," Ladson said.

"Matt, I think, was in person like he was on the field. He was even-keel all the time," Negron said.

But here's the thing : Anyone who thought, at the time, that the Nationals weren't going to benefit from the Capps trade didn't see the big picture. The big picture is, the Nats got Wilson Ramos (and southpaw Joe Testa) for Capps.

During the first pregrame press conference this season, Manager Jim Riggleman said his plan was to alternate Ivan Rodriguez and Wilson Ramos behind the dish.

Riggleman explained that he'd spoken to the veteran backstop about the team's decision to rotate the two. The Nats skipper described that as being "a great conversation" with the 20-year veteran, with a player who "completely understands that we have to develop Ramos' game."

Rodriguez started the home opener, but now that we're nine games into the season, who is the Nats' No. 1 behind the plate?

"No, we literally kind of have two No.1s," Riggleman said earlier this season, "We're going to move towards (Ramos being no.1), but we don't want to count our chickens too early here."

So much for counting chickens - Riggleman announced Friday that Ramos was moving into the role of starter.

Riggleman saw this as a logical switch that the team has had in works for weeks.

"As we move forward," Riggleman said, "Ramos is going to get more and more playing time. He is more impressive the more he plays. ... I don't think he is at a point where being a No. 2 catcher is really going to benefit us or him. He is going to move in there and play more and more."

Going into Friday's decision, Ramos had hit 5-for-14 (.357) with a run scored. Rodriguez, to that point, had no hits in 10 at-bats but continues to demonstrate his veteran abilities despite his status as an aging athlete though.

Rodriguez came through on Sunday with a tiebreaking one-out single (his second hit of the game) in the 11th off reliever Blaine Boyer to send Ramos around to score. The Nats went on to win 7-3.

Ramos as a starter makes sense. He's got the numbers to back his case (he's hitting .416 in 6 games played). It's time to get this guy on-the-field, major league experience to cultivate career growth.

Right now, defense is on the 23-year-old's mind. "The first tool for a catcher is behind the plate," Ramos told Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball.

"I'm working right now on my defense, calling the game and everything behind the plate, and I'm not working too much with my bat because I know I can hit. I need to call a pretty good game and help my pitching staff win the game."

With Rodriguez by his side as a mentor and teacher, there's no telling the kinds of lessons Ramos will learn both on the field during a live game and off the field in the clubhouse. Keep your eye on that Ramos kid.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love D.C., and will be sharing her observations about her adopted team this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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