In the sixth inning Saturday night, with two strikes on Justin Upton and Kelly Johnson on first, Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson called for a steal. Livan Hernandez threw a curveball, which Gibson had anticipated – “I had him running for that exact reason,” Gibson said.
Upton swung over the curve, which necessitated catcher Wilson Ramos putting his mitt on the dirt to catch, in front of his left foot. As Ramos caught the ball, he brought his right forward and rapidly hopped into a throwing a position. He grabbed the ball from his glove and whipped an incredibly quick throw to Danny Espinosa, covering at second base. He applied an easy tag on Johnson, and another would-be base stealer jogged back into the dugout.
“We ran on a breaking ball down in the zone,” Gibson said. “And he cut us down, sliced us up.”
Johnson was not an easy mark – he had stolen eight bases this year without being caught before last night. He is also by no means the first base runner whom Nationals catchers – either Ramos or Ivan Rodriguez – have sliced up.
Ramos has thrown out 9 for 21 base runners this season, and that 42.9 percent rate is the best in the majors. Rodriguez has thrown out 6 of 15. Combined, their 42-percent success rate in throwing out runners ranks best in the majors.
“Their catchers are probably the best we’ve seen,” Gibson said. “Probably the best in the major leagues.”
Manager Jim Riggleman also gave credit to the Nationals pitching staff for varying their timing to the plate and keeping close tabs on runners. But the strength and accuracy of Ramos and Rodriguez has been obvious. Nationals official Bob Boone – who only caught 2,240 games in the majors – said they’re both “throwing strikes” on almost every throw.
Boone had not watched Ramos much before this season, but said he’s been “very impressed” with his defense. The thing that allows Ramos to have such success, Boone said, is his foot work. He raved about Ramos’s “efficiency” in staying calm when a runner takes off, then smoothly getting into position to throw.
The quick release allows Ramos to throw out runners on offspeed pitches, like he did last night with Johnson. Ramos focuses only on retiring the hitter when he calls pitches, even in a situation that may call fro a steal, because he’s confident he can gun down the runner on any pitch. With Upton batting last night with two strikes, Ramos called a changeup.
“I call the pitches for the hitter,” Ramos said. “I don’t think about the runners. I’ll call sliders, curveballs, changeups for anyone. I’m concentrating to try to call a pitch. I’m not thinking about the runners. I know if I call a curveball, slider or changeup, I know I can throw the ball.”
Ramos is stuck in a 4-for-35 slump, but he hasn’t allowed that to detract from his defense. It meant something to him when he was told of Gibson’s fawning appraisal.
“Very nice,” Ramos said. “For the other manager to say that, that’s pretty good for us. We don’t hit too much, but we can get the job done behind the plate.”