Wilson Ramos comes all the way back; Ryan Zimmerman hits three homers; Rafael Soriano returns

(Jonathan Newton/TWP)
(Jonathan Newton/TWP)

It would be hard to name a better development for the Nationals’ this spring than the full health and outstanding performance of catcher Wilson Ramos. He arrived in Viera in early February having yet to catch his first bullpen session since undergoing knee surgery last summer. All month Ramos breezed past signposts – blocking balls, sliding, catching a full nine innings – until he culminated his spring Wednesday afternoon, clobbering two mammoth home runs over the Space Coast Stadium wall.

Ramos’s day cemented what has become clear: He has not only recovered from his torn ACL and meniscus. He has become a better player than he was before the injury. He is more agile behind the plate, faster on the bases, and his swing, it seems, has not suffered. Spring training stats mean only so much, but in the Grapefruit League, Ramos has hit .353/.353/.559 with just three strikeouts in 34 at-bats.

“I’m concentrating more on my offense,” Ramos said. “I’m working now on my swing. I forget about my knee now. For a long time, I thought about my knee only and forgot about my swing. Now it’s time to work both together. And it feels great. I cleared my mind about my knee.”

Today, Ramos annihilated two baseballs. His first home run sailed over the right field fence. He massacred the second, a bomb to left field off Braves farmhand Daniel Rodriguez that would have landed in the red seats at Nationals Park.

Manager Davey Johnson first noticed Ramos had stopped worrying about the fitness of his surgically repaired knee after he caught a full game for the first time. Johnson dropped any concerns about Ramos once he saw him at the start of camp, and his confidence has only heightened since.”

“Every action he has looks perfect to me,” Johnson said. “Blocking balls, the speed with which he picked it up, it’s even better than it was last year.”

Johnson has already said he plans for Ramos to split time evenly with Kurt Suzuki this year. He has not said who will catch opening day, although it may have been a clue when Suzuki went to catch opening day starter Stephen Strasburg in a minor league game today.

Whether or not Ramos starts opening day is beside the most important point. When Ramos crumpled to the ground last year in Cincinnati, the Nationals couldn’t know if they had lost a 24-year-old part of the franchise bedrock. And now they know. Ramos is back, and the Nationals again can plan their future with one of the best young catchers in baseball.

>>> In the Nationals’ 11-2 demolition of the Braves, Ryan Zimmerman led the way with three home runs, tripling his previous spring output in one game. He came into the game with 48 at-bats, two shy of his annual spring target. “As soon as Zim gets his 50 at-bats here, he’s ready,” Johnson said. Zimmerman has hit .308/.302/.596, pulling off the trick of having a higher average than on-base percentage by not drawing a single walk in 52 at-bats.

>>> Ross Detwiler made his final spring training start. His only blemish over 5 1/3 innings came when Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird hit back-to-back home runs. Detwiler allowed eight hits and walked one with two strikeouts. He ended his spring having allowed four earned runs over 11 1/3 innings, not including four scoreless frames in the World Baseball Classic.

“Ready to go,” Detwiler said.

Detwiler, like Dan Haren, will have nine days of rest before he makes his regular season debut in the Nationals’ fifth game of the year. Detwiler has experience with pitching on long rest, including a 10-day layoff before his excellent start in Game 4 of the NLDS last year. Johnson said Detwiler will throw extra bullpen sessions to stay fresh. “Just gonna roll with it,” Detwiler said.

>>> Closer Rafael Soriano returned to the mound for the first time in a major league game since March 18, when the Tigers clobbered for four runs in 2/3 of an innings. Soriano, who had since undergone a root canal and attended to a family matter in the Dominican Republic, allowed one hit and one walk in a scoreless ninth inning, striking out one. “He looked a little rusty,” Johnson said. Soriano will also pitch tomorrow.

>>> The Nationals sent a crew of minor leaguers to play the Cardinals in a split-squad game in Jupiter. Prospect Taylor Jordan allowed seven earned runs on 10 hits in a 10-1 loss. Michael Crotta fired a scoreless innings. The Nationals signed Crotta to a minor league deal this  spring after he hit 96 mph with his fastball in a tryout. He has dealt with stress fractures in his elbow in the past.

Adam Kilgore covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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Adam Kilgore · March 27, 2013