For more than nine months since the surgeries to repair his injured right knee, Wilson Ramos has watched his teammates play the game he loves from television and in the dugout. With every medical hurdle, the 25-year-old catcher has grown more anxious and giddy for his first game since that fateful May.
Sunday, a day after taking slides for the first time and getting the green light to play, he finally got his chance. He replaced Ryan Zimmerman as the Nationals’ designated hitter in the seventh inning of a 7-6 win over the Cardinals. The crowd in Viera acknowledged his feat with cheers and applause.
“I was a little bit nervous,” Ramos admitted later. “A long time ago I see a pitch on the mound. I felt pretty good at the plate.”
Facing left-hander Kevin Siegrist, Ramos chopped a grounder to the shortstop and chugged down the first base line for an out. He turned toward the dugout and teammates greeted him with words he has waited since last May to hear: “Welcome back.”
Ramos remained in the game for another at-bat. In the ninth inning of a 6-6 game, he smashed a 3-2 fastball from right-hander Eduardo Sanchez deep to right field. Off the bat, the ball looked like a home run but instead it hit the base of the right-center field fence. Ramos missed a redeeming moment by only a few feet.
“I know the wind was blowing in but I hit that ball pretty good,” he said. “I was happy.”
Johnson feared Ramos was running too hard to first base as he tried to beat out the grounder in the first inning. After the double, Johnson pulled Ramos for pinch-runner Sandy Leon. (Leon scored the game-winning run from third base when Zach Walters smacked a walk-off single.)
“He really looked good,” Johnson said. “The gale blowing in and he turned it around and he looked good running the bases. Thank goodness he hit [the double] so far he didn’t have to slide.”
Ramos faces yet another welcome step on Tuesday, after a day of rest on Monday: He will start his first game at catcher and squat behind the plate for three innings. With every step of progress, he is slowly moving past the mental trauma of such a major injury.
“Right now, I’m trying to forget everything with my knee and just concentrate and play hard,” he said. “That’s a big step for me today and now I’m very excited and I want to be behind the plate soon.”
Zimmerman, who had offseason surgery on his right shoulder, went 1 for 3 with an RBI in his first at-bats in his spring debut. He will serve as the team’s designated hitter every other game, alternating with Ramos.