Top Prospects: A.J. Cole, RHP, Nationals

Right-hander A.J. Cole, the Nationals' No. 2 prospect, struck out seven batters in six scoreless innings on Tuesday in Double-A Harrisburg's 5-1 win over Richmond.

The seven strikeouts were a season high for Cole, who is ranked No. 64 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list. He scattered seven hits and did not walk a batter.

Cole pitched well at Harrisburg last year after a late-season promotion, a trend he has carried over into 2014. In six starts this season, he is 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA. He has struck out 24 batters and walked four in 28 1/3 innings.

The Nats' No. 7 prospect, Matt Skole, went 1-for-4 with a double and an RBI in the victory. After missing almost all of last year due to injury, he is hitting .169 with a .454 OPS in 24 games this season.

Ramos may have to wait for Friday to return

WSH@PHI: Nats' broadcast on Ramos' rehab game

WASHINGTON -- If it were up to Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, he would make his return from the disabled list on Wednesday, when the Nats finish their three-game series against the Dodgers. But that decision ultimately does not rest with Ramos, who might have to wait until Friday in Oakland to play for the first time since Opening Day.

Ramos, recovering from a left hamate bone fracture, finished a Minor League rehab assignment on Monday with Double-A Harrisburg, where he went 0-for-4, but caught the whole game with no issues. He continues to experience normal soreness in his wrist area, but it's nothing he can't play with.

"It feels good right now," said Ramos, who will wear a special pad at the heel of his glove to protect the wrist. "I feel more strong. My legs feel good. It felt good yesterday catching nine innings. I blocked a couple balls that hit my wrist and I didn't feel anything, so that's a good step."

Manager Matt Williams understands Ramos' eagerness to return, but suggested that it might not come until the club begins its road trip following Thursday's off-day.

"I know that he feels good and that he's played well, but we haven't made a decision on that one yet," Williams said. "We'll see how it goes. He'll go through a full workout today and we'll evaluate where he's at. I want to put my eyes on him, too. I know our whole staff does."

Williams is not concerned about the hamate injury nearly as much as Ramos' ability to catch on a regular basis and run the bases without incident. Ramos missed significant time with hamstring injuries last year, and Williams wanted to watch him run on Wednesday to make sure "there's no tentativeness."

If the Nats wait until Friday to activate Ramos, he could make his return as a designated hitter in the American League ballpark. In that case, Williams said the club might keep three catchers on the roster for that series.

For his part, Ramos expressed optimism about the health of his legs, as well as his defense behind the plate and his timing at it. He crushed a pair of home runs in two games at extended spring training and another as the DH for Class A Hagerstown on Sunday. While hamate injuries have the reputation for sapping power even after a player recovers, Ramos' doesn't seem to have disappeared.

"I don't have my full power already, but I feel the ball's still jumping from my bat," said Ramos, who hit 16 homers in only 78 games last season.

With various injuries having limited Ramos to 104 games since the start of the 2012 season, he's more than ready to get back on the field -- and stay there.

"That happens in baseball," Ramos said. "I was a little bit frustrated with that, but right now it feels good. I feel happy because I'm back. It's not like with my knee, I lost all of the season. This was quicker, and I'm always working hard, keeping my head up."

McLouth escapes serious injury after highlight catch

Must C Catch: McLouth makes sliding catch, hits wall

WASHINGTON -- When he arrived in the Nationals' clubhouse on Tuesday, Nate McLouth still hadn't watched the highlight of his spectacular sliding catch in Monday night's 4-0 win over the Dodgers. But the bandage on his right index finger served as a reminder of how he gave up his body to make the play in foul territory down the left-field line.

"I know it was pretty much catch, boom, wall," said McLouth, who ranked the catch as "probably one of the more dangerous ones," of his career.

Considering how the play looked, the damage could have been much worse.

With one out in the top of the eighth inning and the Nats leading 2-0, the Dodgers' Dee Gordon sliced a ball down the line. McLouth gave chase toward the point where the low padded wall juts out toward the foul line. McLouth went into a feet-first slide, stuck his glove out and caught the ball, holding on even as he almost immediately slammed into the wall.

"I tried to slide a little bit early, so I could almost coast into it on my butt so I wouldn't go so fast into the wall," McLouth said. "It was kind of lucky, too, to be honest with you -- slide and you know you're going to be close and just throw your glove out."

McLouth banged up his knee a bit on the cement part of the wall below the padding. He also got a chunk of skin on the outside of his finger peeled up, causing bleeding that led the Nats to remove him from the game. The training staff later cut the skin off, leaving McLouth with a patch of bare flesh now covered by the bandage.

For now, neither McLouth nor manager Matt Williams considers the injury to be serious. McLouth was out of the starting lineup on Tuesday, and his availability off the bench depended on whether the finger injury would prevent him from capably gripping a ball or a bat.

LaRoche in lineup despite quad injury

WSH@PHI: Nationals reporter on LaRoche injury

WASHINGTON -- Adam LaRoche started in the cleanup spot against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday, but the Nationals first baseman continues to deal with what manager Matt Williams described as a "little strain of his [right] quad."

The injury has nagged at LaRoche for the past couple of weeks, leading the Nats to rest him on occasion, most recently last Wednesday in Houston. When he has played, the 11-year veteran has appeared to be limited at times, especially on the bases.

"It's better than it was the last day in Houston, but nonetheless he's very guarded with it right now, hobbling," Williams said. "I don't think he wants to stretch it unless he has to. I think the hobble is probably a little bit by design. We've got him wrapped up really good so he can't fully extend as he runs anyways, so it looks like he's hobbling a little bit. It's feeling a little better, but it's not something that's going to go away overnight."

The injury certainly hasn't affected LaRoche at the plate, where he's batted .324/.427/.524 this season, with six doubles and five home runs. He picked up two more hits on Monday, his ninth multi-hit game.

But it's also not something that's going to disappear without significant rest, and right now, neither LaRoche nor the Nats are willing to take it.

"It's one of those things where complete rest would make it go away, but that requires an extended period of time, so he doesn't feel like he wants to do that, and we certainly want him in the lineup," Williams said. "So we're trying to guard it as much as possible, taking him out of games late in the game defensively, running for him when we get the opportunity, so he doesn't make it any worse."

Zimmerman making progress as thumb heals

WSH@ATL: Zimmerman exits with fractured thumb

WASHINGTON -- X-rays taken Monday on Ryan Zimmerman's fractured right thumb showed that the Nationals third baseman is making good progress in his recovery, according to manager Matt Williams.

Zimmerman was expected to miss four to six weeks after sustaining the injury sliding back into second base against the Braves on April 12. He's now a little more than three weeks into his recovery.

"Zim's X-rays were great, and he's on path to begin his rehab as soon as possible," Williams said. "Fracture is still there. It's only three weeks, so it's still there, but there's callouses and it's progressing well. But we have to be cautious in these days, because he's feeling better and wants to do more, but it's not quite bone yet. But all the X-rays were good."

Zimmerman has been able to lift weights and work on his conditioning since the injury, but he has to wait until the fracture heals to begin strengthening the thumb.

In 10 games before the incident occurred, Zimmerman hit .364/.405/.636 with three doubles and two home runs.

Worth noting

• Catcher Jose Lobaton was back in the Nats' lineup on Tuesday after missing the previous two games with shin soreness. Lobaton took a pitch off the shin on Saturday in Philadelphia.

• Williams said that left fielder Bryce Harper will remain in Washington during the club's upcoming road trip and will have the stitches removed from his left thumb during that time. Harper had surgery last Tuesday to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the thumb.