Less than one year after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee, Wilson Ramos will squat behind the Nationals Park plate Monday as the Nationals’ opening day catcher. Through an outstanding spring training, Ramos had already earned a timeshare with incumbent Kurt Suzuki. Monday morning during batting practice, Manager Davey Johnson sidled next to Ramos and informed him he would catch Stephen Strasburg opening day.
“I had a smile on my face,” Ramos said. “I’m really, really happy for that.”
Johnson made the decision – “a tough call,” he said – for two reasons. He had already decided to alternate Ramos and Suzuki every other game, and so on that schedule Suzuki will catch No. 2 starter Gio Gonzalez, his former Oakland A’s battery mate. Johnson also wanted to reward Ramos for the grueling rehab he put into healing the knee injury that ended his 2012 season in May – “kind of a carrot for hard work,” Johnson said.
“I worked hard for this moment, working on my body, working on my swing, working on everything, especially with my knee,” Ramos said. “Now my knee feels 100 percent and I’m strong. Now I feel better than before I got hurt. That’s really good for me, and I’m just waiting for Monday to do everything I can do.”
Ramos impressed all spring. He lost weight during his rehab, and so he now feels more agile behind the plate and faster running the bases. The timing of his powerful swing came back – he hit .333 and slugged .528 with two homers over 36 at-bats in the Grapefruit League.
For his part, Suzuki thrived after arriving in a trade with Oakland last year, becoming one of the toughest outs in the Nationals’ lineup down the stretch. He hit .263/.356/.421 this spring. Suzuki was “okay” with the decision to let Ramos catch opening day, Johnson said.
“He’s my teammate now,” Ramos said. “We will be behind the plate to take the pitching staff to do a good job. He can teach me a lot. He’s got more experience than me at this level, so I’ve got a lot of things to learn with him. Now I will open my ear and try to hear everything he can teach me.”
In the winter, Nationals officials said they planned for Suzuki to handle the majority of the catching duties to start the year, with Ramos easing back into his schedule. But his performance this spring training convinced Johnson that Ramos could handle a larger burden early.
Ramos tore his knee ligaments May 12 while chasing a passed ball in Cincinnati. From that time until the start of spring training, he focused only on healing his knee, never setting goals for a return. Once he arrived in Viera, Fla., he started to contemplate when he would play again.
“During the winter I was just focused on my knee, trying to do everything the doctors said to get better and better,” Ramos said. “But during spring training I was working hard with opening day in mind. I just was thinking about opening day.”