Ramos closing in on a return to action

VIERA, Fla. - Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche are both scheduled to make their spring debuts tomorrow.

Manager Davey Johnson has slotted Werth in right field (hitting third) and LaRoche at first base (hitting fourth) for tomorrow's home game against the Marlins, giving two of his most-tenured veterans their first action this spring.

Dan Haren will start tomorrow for the Nationals.

Chad Tracy, who didn't make the trip to Port St. Lucie yesterday because of a bruised arm, had a bat in his hands and was ready to take batting practice this morning. He apparently is feeling better.

So, too, is Micah Owings, who got treatment on a sore left wrist yesterday. Owings said the wrist was "barking pretty good" yesterday but feels much improved today. He's going to get another day to rest before thinking about returning to action.

Meanwhile, when you talk to Wilson Ramos these days, you can tell the 25-year-old catcher is in a good place.

Ramos has been doing a lot of smiling lately, with his progress from two major knee surgeries boosting spirits which were pretty low at times last summer.

Today, Ramos is set to clear one of the last hurdles in his rehab: sliding. Because Ramos tucks his surgically-repaired right knee when he slides, this is something the Nationals have been holding him back from until they felt confident the knee was strong enough to handle it.

Ramos will practice sliding by tucking his left leg, as well, a process that could take some time to learn.

"It's more mental because I was scared before blocking (pitches)," Ramos said. "After blocking, it feels great. My mind is really clear. Now, I'm mentally scared for sliding. Maybe I'll slide and I'll feel nothing and I'll be more confident. I'm just waiting for that."

Ramos estimates that his right knee is 95 percent healthy, this after he measured the strength of his knee at about 80 percent coming into spring. He came into camp not having caught bullpen sessions or blocked pitches in the dirt. He now can do both with ease.

Ramos has been able to hit for some time now, but lately, he's seen a boost in his power during batting practice sessions. He credits that to the increased focus on upper body workouts last season, when his knee limited him from being able to work on his lower body.

"It was great before, but after the surgery, working out every day, I feel more power now," Ramos said. "I worked a lot on my upper body. (Before), I worked my full body, but July to December, I worked more upper. Just two times a week, and now the whole week. I feel like my bat's a little bit lighter."

The Nats aren't putting a firm timetable on it, but they hope Ramos will be able to get in a few games as a DH in the coming weeks, and then hopefully he'll be able to be back behind the plate not too long after that.

"I will be excited," Ramos said. "Very, very happy to be (between) those two white lines. I'm waiting for that moment. Almost get crazy last year. To play again, 100 percent sure I will be very happy."

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