ATLANTA - With Wilson Ramos getting activated from the disabled list today and Kurt Suzuki having gotten a heavy workload recently, it wouldn't have been unreasonable to expect Ramos to get the start tonight against the Braves. Instead, it's Suzuki behind the plate again.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson explained his decision to sit Ramos, saying he's taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach with his catcher after his recent left hamstring injury.
"I treat hamstrings anything but lightly," Johnson said. "He didn't do anything yesterday, he took the day completely off. Which told me he may have been a little sore from catching (in a rehab game on Saturday). We traveled, so I want to make sure he's OK today. If he's OK today, he'll play tomorrow. I'm just being overly cautious. Just conforming with medical practices today. I'd rather be safe than sorry. That's all."
For what it's worth, Ramos said he feels completely healthy at this point, and will be ready to handle whatever workload Johnson throws at him.
"I feel comfortable," Ramos said. "I don't feel anything with my hamstring right now. Just go out there and trying to do my job. When I feel something, I check with the trainer, but right now I feel 100 percent. Just want to go out there and play my game."
For now, Johnson will alternate Ramos and Suzuki, as he did earlier in the season prior to Ramos' injury. But that's not a permanent plan.
"I was never going to be tied into that full-time," Johnson said. "I play the hot hand, I look at matchups."
If Ramos can keep up the type of offensive production that we saw from him before he strained his hamstring - he hit .300 with two home runs and three RBIs in six games to start the season - he'll have a good shot to get the bulk of the starts. Suzuki is no slouch with the bat by any means, but when he's healthy, Ramos seems to offer more offensive upside.
"He was swinging the bat, before he got hurt," Johnson said. "Last year, he was swinging the heck out of the bat. I love to have him in the lineup. I just want to make sure he's going to be healthy. That's why I was taking it easy with him at the first of the year. I didn't want injuries to pop up. Unfortunately it did. Hopefully we can get him consistently out there every day."
Chad Tracy is getting his third start of the season at third base tonight, but his first since Anthony Rendon was promoted to the big leagues. Rendon and Steve Lombardozzi have both gotten cracks at third base with Ryan Zimmerman on the DL, but it's Tracy's turn tonight.
"I really like Rendon. He had a good game the other day," Johnson said. "But I've got to get ... when one of your regulars is down, the guys that are going to be here, I need to get them some playing time. It takes 25 guys to win. Anthony Rendon is going to be here real soon for a long time. But in the meantime, the guys that are going to be with us this year, I've got to make sure if there's an opportunity I can get them some playing time."
Stephen Strasburg has had trouble in the first inning this season; his ERA in the opening frame is a whopping 10.80.
It's no coincidence, but Johnson had a chat with former All-Star pitcher and current ESPN broadcaster Rick Sutcliffe this afternoon, and Sutcliffe provided some tips on how he would avoid struggling out of the gate in the first inning of starts. Sutcliffe told Johnson about some certain things he would focus on in the bullpen before his outing.
"I'll probably pass (those tips) along to (pitching coach Steve McCatty), and what he does with it, whatever," Johnson said. "But it's all about attacking the hitters. I don't care if it's in the first inning, seventh inning or ninth inning. It's going after them. Attacking and not being defensive. Sometimes if you overthrow trying to rely on stuff, then your location's messed up. I just believe in going out there and aggressively going after a guy, getting ahead, trying to get him out rather than trying to make the perfect pitch and getting behind."
That's a strategy Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann employed during their recent starts against the Reds. Both starters kept their pitch counts low and worked deep into the game. Gonzalez allowed one hit over eight innings, while Zimmermann needed just 91 pitches in a complete-game, one-hit shutout. Johnson wants to see that same approach from Strasburg tonight.
"Zimmermann's is a blueprint for all pitchers," Johnson said. "I looked up there and saw 66 pitches and I think he was finishing off the seventh inning. And I said, 'Holy Moly.' They don't need me around here because he's got a lot of pitches he can throw and finish this ballgame. But that's the kind of game that guys with good stuff are capable, of because hitters are not going to be centering on it and they're going to be putting it in play.
"Strikeouts, sometimes, when your stuff is too good, you end up with a higher pitch count. Sometimes it's harder to go deeper into games because of a lot of strikeouts."