While the Nationals ramp up for next week’s winter meetings, Wilson Ramos continues to find some normalcy on the field at home in Venezuela. Last night, Ramos caught his first game for the Aragua Tigers after he served as the designated hitter in his first seven games at the Venezuelan winter league. He went 2 for 4, his second multi-hit game of his brief winter season.
Ramos, of course, is playing in the wake of his harrowing kidnapping ordeal last month. In his emotional debut a week ago, fans at The Tigers’ stadium in Maracay gave him a standing ovation, and he doffed his helmet in the batter’s box.
That night, with the swirling emotion and rust from not playing competitively since the end of the regular season, Ramos went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts. In the seven games since, Ramos has eight hits, all singles, in 24 at-bats with two walks and nine strikeouts.
In other Venezuelan Nationals catcher news, Jesus Flores has maintained his excellent season of winter ball. Standout performances in winter ball should be taken with healthy skepticism – Yunesky Maya was the pitcher of the year in the Dominican last year. But if you’re going to play, you might as well hit the cover off the ball, and Flores is. In 38 games, Flores is hitting .363/.391/.589 with seven home runs.
Flores and the Nationals stand at a unique crossroads. Flores wants to play every day, as he clearly had the ability to do before he missed most of 2009 and all of 2010 with a shoulder injury. The Nationals likely need a backup catcher behind Ramos with free agent Ivan Rodriguez probably wanting a situation where playing time – and at-bats as he tries for 3,000 hits – would be more plentiful.
Flores is under team control and would be a cheap, quality backup. But he may bristle at having to spend another season receiving infrequent playing time. Flores could be a trade candidate, but then the Nationals would be selling low on a 27-year-old catcher with high offensive potential who hit just .209 in 91 major league plate appearances last year.
“Flores is on the 40-man roster,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said at the GM meetings two weeks ago. “He’s going to compete for playing time in the major leagues in spring training. We’re going to let his talent and his performance dictate where he plays.”