VIERA, Fla. - A few minutes before I went over to Wilson Ramos' locker to have a brief chat with the Nationals catcher this morning, he met with manager Davey Johnson.
In that meeting, Johnson told Ramos that the team's medical staff had cleared the 25-year-old to begin playing in Grapefruit League games. That in itself was great news. But Johnson then told Ramos that he would get one at-bat as the DH in this afternoon's game against the Cardinals, marking his first appearance in a game since a suffering a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee last May 12.
"I'm happy, man," Ramos said. "So happy."
Ramos needed two surgeries to repair the damage to his knee, and then spent much of the last seven months rehabbing and building up strength in the knee. He's been eased along early this spring, first catching just one bullpen session per day, then catching back-to-back bullpens, then taking part in sliding drills.
The sliding happened yesterday in front of team trainers, who then gave Ramos the stamp of approval to enter a game. Ramos had admittedly been scared to try sliding, which would require him to tuck his right leg and land on the knee as he went into a base. But he came out of the sliding drills feeling just fine.
"Good, man. Feels good after yesterday's sliding," Ramos said. "I feel more comfort now. Not anymore scared. Just ready to go.
"I feel like I'm a ballplayer again. (I'm) excited. Much better moment for me."
Ramos didn't push things too hard yesterday, but he did tuck the right knee when sliding instead of trying to tweak his sliding technique and tuck his left leg. That was an idea that had been presented by some within the organization who felt it might be better to have Ramos avoid needing to land on his right knee.
"I slide normal (and) I don't feel any pain or (soreness)," Ramos said. "I have more confidence now, not scared for slide because I did it already and I know now I won't feel sore after I slide."
Ramos will wear a sleeve on the right knee during games to provide stability, but he won't require any type of bulky brace that might cut down on his mobility.
He'll get his one at-bat today and then we could see him behind the plate for the first time Tuesday, when Johnson plans to have Ramos serve as his catcher for the first three innings. After that, Ramos will alternate with Ryan Zimmerman as the Nationals' DH, continuing to get at-bats and build up strength in the knee as spring progresses.
It's incremental progress, but Ramos remembers where he was just seven months ago. And that's why today should be a pretty special day for him.