PHILADELPHIA - As each day passes and Wilson Ramos continues to produce at the plate like never before, the rest of the Nationals only find themselves more and more impressed with a catcher who has managed to elevate his game to lofty new heights this season.
"Extremely impressive," right-hander Max Scherzer said. "Because those guys are back there grinding and taking balls off the forearm and legs, and they're getting beat up behind the plate."
Ramos indeed takes a pounding while catching, something he does at least four out of every five days. And he remains a strong defensive player, whether in game-calling or throwing out runners.
But the real story of Ramos' season to date has come not behind the plate but at the plate, where he has transformed himself into one of the most productive hitters in the sport.
With three more hits last night, including a three-run homer during the Nationals' 7-2 victory over the Phillies, Ramos raised his batting average to .338. That's tops among all major league catchers by 39 points. His 29 RBIs also lead the pack, as does his .919 OPS.
All of which is great. But here's perhaps the most impressive thing he's done: He has lowered his strikeout rate from 20 percent to 12 percent, while raising his walk rate from 4.2 percent to 7 percent.
"I think what I'm more impressed about and taken back by is the judgment in the strike zone that I've taken," Ramos said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. "It's been a lot better. I've been more patient with my at-bats, and I've been able to handle the strike zone much, much more this season. I think that's what I'm actually the happiest about."
Indeed, the days of Ramos flailing away at sliders down and out of the zone are long gone. He's working the count. He's taking walks. And he's becoming a disciplined two-strike hitter, as he showed last night when poking an 0-2 pitch into right field for an RBI single.
"I guess that LASIK surgery really does work," Scherzer said with a laugh.
Ah yes, the laser eye surgery Ramos had performed on him during spring training. It certainly seems to have made a difference. But is it really that simple, or is there more to this resurgence than 20/15 vision?
"To be honest, I can't answer that, if it's the vision or if it's more than that," he said. "Lately it's been helping me read pitches a lot earlier. I've been more patient at the plate, and it could very well be because of the surgery. I know I am seeing the pitches a lot better and I'm staying more relaxed at the plate, which all adds to the success I'm having."
Whatever is responsible for it, Ramos is having the kind of success that's extremely rare for catchers. There's obviously a long way to go - the season just hit the one-third mark - but only 11 catchers in baseball history have hit .330 or better while getting at least 500 plate appearances. Ramos is on pace to join that club.
"He's really focused on his approach," shortstop Danny Espinosa said. "He goes up there and he's really locked in on what he wants, where he wants the ball and what he wants to do with it. He's been like that since day one. So to see him continue to do that day after day with what he's doing, it's very impressive. Especially getting dinged up and getting foul balls off your thumb, it's not easy. It's real nice to have a catcher who does that."
After enduring through major injury after major injury through the early portion of his career, Ramos has proven to be quite durable over the last two seasons. Manager Dusty Baker sees a well-conditioned, strong catcher whose body holds up well to the rigors of the job, allowing him to remain the productive hitter he has been for two months now.
"He's not called 'The Buffalo' for nothing," Baker said. "I've never seen a skinny buffalo. Unless he's real sick. It's not surprising. This guy's strong."