Injury-prone Ramos glad to be back with Nationals
Catcher contributes double, decisive sac fly after returning from disabled list
WASHINGTON -- Even without context, this was a positive development for the Nationals. Catcher Wilson Ramos, making his first appearance since Opening Day, came off the disabled list Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park. He had a double, walk and the decisive sacrifice fly in a 3-2 getaway day win over the Dodgers.
Widen the lens just a little and what this could mean for the team comes into even sharper focus.
Outfielder Scott Hairston, who missed 26 games with a left oblique strain, was activated Monday. Ramos returned Wednesday. Right-hander Doug Fister, the signature offseason acquisition, is scheduled to be activated and make his first start of the season in Oakland on Friday night.
The Nats are still without third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (fractured right thumb) and left fielder Bryce Harper (torn ligament in left thumb), but there's a tangible sense that this club is starting to come together.
"We've weathered the storm decently well here. I feel like we're about to hit our stride," said reliever Jerry Blevins, who relieved starter Stephen Strasburg in the eighth and retired Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in a crucial situation. "We're kind of coming into our own, trying to figure out who we are as a team and we're just going to keep going from here."
Ramos plays a central role in those hopes. After all, he led the team in RBIs after the All-Star break last season even though he batted down in the lineup most of the time. A sign of how much manager Matt Williams thinks of him is that he stepped right into the cleanup spot in his first game back.
"He has the ability to drive in runs," said Williams. "He's calm up there regardless of the situation. He understands the strike zone. He's been there and he's done that so it's nice to have him back."
Williams added that Ramos passed other tests as well by going first to third on a single to right in the bottom of the eighth and by making a strong throw to second to narrowly miss throwing out speedy Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon, who leads the Major Leagues in steals, in the top of the inning.
"It's great," said Strasburg. "Not to knock [backup catcher Jose Lobaton]. I think he did a great job in his absence. But having his bat in the four-hole is just huge. And I always look forward to throwing to him."
After Adam LaRoche tied the game with a two-run single in the bottom of the first inning, Ramos slammed the first pitch he saw into left-center for a double.
"I was looking for something in the zone and he threw me a pitch right down the middle," said Ramos. "I know [Dodgers starter Dan Haren]. I know how he likes to pitch and I was waiting for one in the zone. He threw it to me and I hit it hard."
In the fifth, with the score tied, Ramos came up with the bases loaded and one out and lined a sacrifice fly to right, driving home Denard Span with the run that ended up deciding the outcome.
"I was just trying to hit something to the outfield," Ramos said. "He threw a fastball up and that's the best pitch to hit to the outfield. I was excited, because I like to help the team win games."
"It didn't take him long, did it?" said first baseman Adam LaRoche with a grin. "He pounded that ball. It's great to have him back and healthy. Knock on wood. Hopefully we can keep him out there."
Ramos said he was excited, but not nervous.
"It's not my first time coming back from the DL," he noted.
And that is why the Nationals are hoping he'll have the opportunity to show what he can do now.
For all of Ramos' talent, his career to this point has taken some unlucky turns. There was the kidnapping in his native Venezuela after the 2011 season. The torn ACL in '12. The two hamstring injuries in '13. And then, this year, the fractured hamate bone in his left hand on Opening Day.
To make room for Ramos on the roster, the Nationals optioned right-hander Blake Treinen to Triple-A Syracuse after he made his Major League debut Tuesday night.
Ramos is using a pad in the heel of his glove to protect his wrist, but he said he felt fine Wednesday even after catching Strasburg's fastball.
"It's good," Ramos said. "It's just a little bit sore, but it's just like the doctor said. He said it would be sore for awhile. It's not bad. I can go out there and play, and I want to keep doing that."
Playing the next three games in an American League park gives Williams the option of using Ramos as the designated hitter, although he is also looking for a way to allow LaRoche to stay in the lineup and rest his strained quad as well. The Nationals optioned first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore to Syracuse after the game, meaning they are currently carrying three catchers: Ramos, Lobaton and Sandy Leon.
Ramos doesn't care where he plays. He's just glad to be back.
"I'll be ready for everything," Ramos said. "Every chance the manager gives me, I'll take it. I've been waiting for this for like five weeks. So I'm happy to be here, happy to be back on the team."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.