Ramos putting himself in the conversation for opening day starting job

VIERA, Fla. - Chris Young will get his second start of spring this afternoon as the Nationals host the Astros at Space Coast Stadium.

Those in attendance this afternoon will also get to catch Rafael Soriano, Henry Rodriguez and Tyler Clippard, all three of whom are scheduled to take the mound today.

Young will be throwing to Wilson Ramos, who will be behind the plate for the second straight day. This will mark Ramos' first time catching back-to-back games since tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee last May. He caught five innings yesterday, and will likely get four or five more this afternoon.

Ramos has progressed quicker than anyone in the Nationals' organization could have expected this spring. The 25-year-old came into camp yet to catch a bullpen session, block a pitch in the dirt or slide on his surgically repaired knee.

Just a little over month after reporting to Viera, Ramos has now cleared all of those hurdles, and he'll clear another one today when he tosses on the gear and catches the second of back-to-back games. Manager Davey Johnson told Ramos during batting practice yesterday that he would get the start again today, and Ramos was all for it.

"I told him I'm ready to go," Ramos said. "I felt like I'm ready to catch more innings, you know? He told me that about back-to-back games and I got a little excited because I want to catch more."

Dating back to the Winter Meetings in December, Johnson has said that Kurt Suzuki would be the Nationals' starting catcher on opening day. At that point, and even as recently as a few weeks ago, the Nationals couldn't have known that Ramos would be this far along in his recovery by mid-March, and they didn't want to put any pressure on Ramos to feel like he needed to rush back before he was ready.

But now that Ramos has passed pretty much every test with the exception of catching a full nine innings, it's fair to wonder how the Nationals will handle the sharing of the catching duties.

At the very least, Ramos has seemingly put himself back in the conversation for the opening day job. Asked yesterday if he knows who his starting catcher will be on April 1, Johnson indicated we still have a ways to go before he needs to make that decision. Without attempting to read too much into a couple sentences, it appears that Johnson has at least softened on his stance that the starting job is definitely Suzuki's to begin the season.

For his part, Ramos obviously has his eyes set on being back behind the plate as the starter on April 1.

"I want to be in the first game, you know?" Ramos said. "But that's a decision I can't make. The manager and Mike (Rizzo, general manager), they have to make that decision. I just want to go out there and do my best job and they have to make the decision. I want to be able to play on opening day and a lot of games in the season."

Even though Ramos has come a long way this spring and looked good behind the plate and in the batter's box (where he's batting .273 in 11 at-bats), it still would be a surprise to see Ramos get the start on opening day or get a heavy workload right out of the gate. The Nationals have two quality catchers, and there's no sense in rushing Ramos and putting too much pressure on his knee, which still has to get used to the rigors of squatting for nine innings at a time and making quick movements after balls.

Assuming both Ramos and Suzuki are healthy a couple months into the season, Johnson will have a tough time determining who gets the bulk of the starts at that point. It's a good problem to have, for sure. But it could end up being a tricky situation.

For now, Ramos will keep plugging along, making progress and feeling more like his old self every day.

"I'm completely confident," Ramos said about his knee. "I forget about blocking, sliding already. I don't have any problem with that now. I was trying to forget that and I forget already. I don't have any problems with sliding, blocking balls. I'm doing it during the game and it feels good. I'm not thinking about my knee now. Just go out there and play the game."

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