VIERA, Fla. - Today is Denard Span’s 30th birthday, and a handful of fans who were in attendance for this morning’s casual workout inside Space Coast Stadium sang “Happy Birthday” to the Nationals center fielder when he stepped into the cage for his first round of batting practice.
After the song was over, one fan shouted, “Old man!” at Span. Not nice, dude. Not nice.
Not only did Wilson Ramos get a crash course on the new rules regarding home plate collisions today, he also crushed a few baseballs during batting practice.
And when I say crushed, I mean crushed.
Ramos hit two balls off the scoreboard in left-center field here at Space Coast Stadium today, which a stadium official estimated is about a 450-foot shot. He also planted one well up the hill that’s beyond the fence further into the left-center gap a couple turns later in BP.
This came after Ramos swung and missed at a pitch from manager Matt Williams, who was throwing BP during his turn in the cage.
“What a showoff,” Williams said with a laugh afterwards. “He’s just big power. Big power. He hits the ball the other way really good, too. So that’s why he’s so good at driving runs in because he stays through the middle of the diamond. Today he was letting it eat a little bit though. That’s good.”
Ramos says he wasn’t trying to put on a show this morning. It just happened to work out that way. Fans on hand cheered every shot that he hit out, and really got into it on Ramos’ longballs that banged off the scoreboard.
“I was concentrate on hit the ball hard. Same every day,” Ramos said. “Every day I’m working on something during BP, trying to make good contact and see how the ball go. Today, that was a little bit funny. Matt throw a pretty good BP. I missed one ball. He was laughing. But part of the practice. ...
“Everybody say I have power, but I’m never looking for a homer. I’m trying to hit the ball hard and see what happens.”
Ramos enters spring games healthy after having significant injury issues each of the last two seasons. In 2012, he appeared in just 25 games before tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee, and then landed on the disabled list twice last year, both times due to left hamstring strains.
The 26-year-old played in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason as a way to get some at-bats and stay in shape, and says that he feels perfectly healthy at this point, no longer worried about his knee or hamstring when crouching behind the plate or running.
“I’m very excited. That’s a good moment for me,” Ramos said. “Two years in a row, getting hurt, it’s pretty hard. But right now, it feels great. I’m excited to be healthy. Right now, I’m concentrate on going out and doing my job. I’m not concentrate on what I have to do for my knee or my hammy. I forget about that. I turn the page, and right now just go out there and see what happens. Do my job and having fun.”
How many starts will Ramos get this season, if healthy? The Nats feel he could be in line for a breakout year, but they want to manage his playing time so as to prevent any more serious injuries and keep Ramos fresh. It seems as though Williams is trying to downplay the idea of Ramos becoming one of those catchers who starts five or six games every week, instead suggesting that he’ll look for strategic opportunities to give Ramos a game off.
“We’ve told him we want him to catch as many games as possible,” Williams said. “But keeping in mind, if you look at the statistics, and you say, ‘We want him to catch 120 games,’ (few catchers) did that last year. That’s unrealistic. So we look at that, and we say, ‘Let’s make sure that we get him scheduled days off, especially early, so that he’s fresh throughout the whole season.’
“The tricky part comes when (the team hasn’t) been playing well for a few days and it’s his day off. But we have to take care of him in that regard and make sure that we’re resting him as much as we can. Game-wise, we don’t know. But, when you look at the stats, very few guys caught 100 (games), let alone 120.”
Thinking back to the 2013 season, a reporter jokingly asked whether Ramos would be starting 29 games in a row this year.
“No,” Williams responded.
Williams was then informed that it was, in fact, 23 straight games that Ramos started late last season under then-manager Davey Johnson.
“Still no,” Williams said with a smile.