Few players are as well-liked in the Nationals clubhouse as catcher Wilson Ramos, whose teammates see a warrior in their catcher. Nothing has dulled Ramos' enthusiasm to play, excel and contribute - not his publicized kidnapping incident in his native Venezuela two offseasons ago, not the freak knee injury and subsequent surgery that cost him most of 2012, and not the two trips to the disabled list this season with hamstring problems.
So the fact that Ramos returned from the DL on Thursday after missing 44 games to contribute a career-high five RBIs, including the decisive three-run homer in the seventh inning of an 8-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, was well-received among his Nationals family.
"He's one of the clubhouse favorites with all the guys and they couldn't wait until he got back," said bench coach Randy Knorr, a catcher for 11 seasons in the majors. "He showed it today. He was pretty upset about (injuring his hamstring) the second time. He doesn't really show it, but this time he wanted to make sure he was fully back. He kind of rushed himself and he kept telling himself, 'I'm not going to rush myself. When I feel good, I'm going to come back.' When he first went down, he didn't hurt it again, but he felt it again. So he backed off. Most guys that want to play will fight through it and end up hurting themselves. I'm hoping that we got it and it's going to be away the whole year."
Knorr and manager Davey Johnson were chatting on the dugout rail when Ramos stepped to the plate with two on and two out in the seventh. Drew Storen had just allowed two homers - a solo shot to Yuniesky Betancourt and a two-run blast by Carlos Gomez - as the Brewers tied the game at 5-5. Johnson pretty much called Ramos' shot, more out of hope than an outright prediction.
"He looked at me and he said, 'He's already had a good day. Why don't he just hit a home run right here?' " Knorr recalled. "I looked at him and said, 'I like that.' Next pitch, it was gone. It was a good day for him, and great for us. I think you should root for a guy like that. He's a great guy and a great teammate. Comes here every day to play."
Except when he's injured, of course. And Ramos has fought an uphill battle to stay healthy. His return to the lineup gives Johnson the starting nine he expected to have all season - not the mishmash of call-ups and fill-ins he's been forced to make do with as the 43-42 Nationals have struggled to stay above .500.
"He's a good player," said shortstop Ian Desmond. "It's like we're getting a trade deadline guy or free agents or whatever. We're getting new players back every day, it seems like. Everyone's contributing. He's a statement player, definitely somebody who's just waiting for his turn in the spotlight. I think today he got a lot of recognition and no one deserves it more than him."
Ramos certainly admired his no-doubt-about-it blast into the left field stands off reliever Brandon Kintzler, who hadn't yielded a homer to a right-handed batter in 35 innings this season. But Ramos had to be pushed out of the dugout as the July 4 crowd roared, demanding a curtain call. It was much more satisfying than the standing ovation he got from his home crowd the first game back in the Venezuelan Winter League after being released unharmed by kidnappers.
And with an 11 a.m. start Thursday followed by a Friday night game, the opener of a weekend set with San Diego, Ramos will have ample time in the trainer's room to be ready for a second straight assignment behind the plate.
"He'll catch tomorrow," said Johnson.
Which pleased Ramos, who said he was ready to catch "tomorrow - and every day."
Ramos' big day overshadowed a strong effort on the mound from rookie right-hander Taylor Jordan, who was in line for the victory until Storen's fourth blown save of the season. Jordan allowed two runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings, walking none, striking out three and lowering his ERA after two major league starts to 2.70.
Jordan exited after Juan Francisco's RBI single in the sixth cut Washington's lead to 3-2. Johnson said he didn't want Jordan to be in position to lose the game after pitching so well.
The rookie was undone by his defense in his major league debut last weekend in Citi Field, and his bullpen cost him a chance at a victory today. But he looked more comfortable in his second start than in his first.
He gave pitching coach Steve McCatty credit for lightening the mood pregame by asking him if he knew the name of the guy who was catching him in the bullpen. Jordan didn't know it was Octavio Martinez. So much for tension.
"I felt that it went pretty good," Jordan said. "I wish that I would have had better command of my changeup today. It was spotty, it was up and down. (My fastball) was near where I wanted it to go. I didn't really have any slip-ups or anything."
Well, not unless you count shaking off Ramos a couple of times, something the rookie was quickly cautioned against.
"I shook him off a couple of times - I had a different idea," Jordan explained. "Then, after that, Desmond told me. 'No, trust him. He knows what he's doing.' After that, I didn't shake him off at all."