The plan at the start of the season was for Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos to split the catching duties while Ramos recovered from the devastating knee injury that brought an abrupt end to his 2012 campaign. Ramos was 25 games into his second full season with Washington after the Nationals acquired the highly regarded backstop from the Minnesota Twins in a deadline deal in July 2010 when he went down with the injury.
Coming off a .267/.334/.445 season in his first full year in the majors in 2011, Ramos was off to a strong start in 2012 when his knee buckled on a routine play behind the plate in Cincinnati. "I don't know how bad it is," Nationals manager Davey Johnson told reporters after that game, "He's going for an MRI, but I have a bad feeling he tore something in there and his down time will be a while." The damage was worse than Johnson feared.
Ramos suffered a torn a ACL and meniscus in his right knee that night in Great American Ballpark. Two surgeries were required to repair the damage. Following months of rehab, Ramos arrived in Viera, Fla., ready to go for spring training and the 2013 season. The Nationals intended to stick with their plan to split the catching duties at the start of the season so that Ramos could work his way back slowly, but the 25-year-old catcher came into camp determined and come opening day, Ramos was named the Nationals' catcher for the first game of the year.
"With the progress (Ramos) has made after rehabbing himself after (surgery last May)," Nats skipper Davey Johnson told reporters, "(he's) been out all year, been rehabbing hard and he's looked great all spring, both (at and) behind the dish. He's bouncing around better than I've seen him in the years that I've been here and just kind of a 'carrot' for hard work."
Though Johnson was giving Ramos the nod for the opener, he was clear that in his mind, "I can look at them as both No. 1 catchers."
However, as Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo explained this spring, Ramos was still considered the future behind the plate in the nation's capital.
"We do see Ramos as the future behind the plate for us," Rizzo said in an MLB Network Radio interview "Zuk (Suzuki) is a marvelous handler of the pitching staff. He's got an extremely high baseball IQ. He's an energy guy and an upbeat guy and we think that he's going to get back to the .265-.270, 12-13 HR guy that he was with Oakland."
The Nationals would once again be thankful for the acquisition of Suzuki when Ramos went down with a hamstring injury just two weeks into this season. Ramos was running hard to first on a groundout when he suffered the injury. Johnson described the injury after the game as the "heartbreak of the day." After all the hard work to recover from the knee injuries and get back on the field, another injury was once again going to interrupt the growth of the Nationals' catcher. "Playing very well and hits the ball hard, tries to leg it out and pulls a hammy," a dejected Johnson said.
"I think he's got a pulled hammy," the manager said, "and that's generally - we'll wait and see tomorrow - but that's generally a couple of weeks, at least." The left hamstring strain was not as severe as the Nationals initially feared, however, and Ramos was back in the lineup two weeks later. After just eight games though, the catcher reinjured the hamstring. This one would take significantly longer to heal. Ramos missed 44 games with his second injury of the year to his left hamstring before returning to the lineup yesterday in the nation's capital.
It didn't take long for the catcher to once again remind fans in the nation's capital why he was so highly regarded as a Twins prospect and why he was considered by the Nationals as their catcher of the future even after last year's knee injury. A 3-for-4, five-RBI outing with a game-winning three-run home run was quite a way to announce his return to the majors. With three hits in yesterday's game, Ramos has a .288/.339/.519 line on the year. Suzuki filled in admirably behind the plate while Ramos rehabbed, but when he's healthy Ramos is clearly a difference maker in the Nationals lineup. If he can just stay on the field.
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.