Wilson Ramos’ playing time increases


Wilson Ramos (Alex Brandon/AP)

More than anything, Wilson Ramos has just wanted to play and play often. But a surgically repaired right knee and a cautious Davey Johnson eased him slowly back into action early this season by alternating with Kurt Suzuki. Then came two hamstring injuries, the second one forcing Ramos to miss 44 games.

Since his return on July 4, Johnson has granted Ramos his wish. The Nationals manager leaned heavily on Suzuki during Ramos’s two absences, playing him 37 games during Ramos’s last stint on the disabled list. Now, Johnson has asked Ramos and his hot bat to carry the load. Ramos was in Sunday’s lineup for the first-half finale vs. the Marlins, catching for the third consecutive game for the first time this season.

“I feel good,” Ramos said before Saturday’s game. “For the moment, happy that I feel good physically as much my knee and my hamstring. I feel really good right now. About playing more regularly after being on the disabled list, it gives me more confidence. And in reality, that’s what I’ve wanted. I wanted the chance to play more regularly. It’s something I’ve been hoping for and glad that it’s here.”

Johnson gives Ramos a heads-up late in the game if he is going to start the next day. For past two days, Johnson has told Ramos to expect to start again. With Sunday’s start, Ramos is in the starting lineup at catcher for the eighth time in the past 11 games.

“He’s doing great,” Johnson said before Saturday’s game. “He’s had some really tough games to catch back there. A lot of bouncing balls and a lot of blocking and running. But he feels good.” Then, Johnson added, with a smile: “The way I did it the last time didn’t work too good. So I’m trying something different.”

Johnson, however, faces a careful balance. Ramos has suffered three injuries since last season, but is still viewed as the team’s cornerstone catcher and a very capable power hitter. Suzuki is more experienced, a good defender who blocks all sorts of balls at the plate and can ease Ramos’s workload.

But with Ramos hitting the way he has since his returned — .407 (11 for 27) with two homers and 10 RBI — it would be hard to keep him out of the lineup. Suzuki, who has a $8.5 million team option in 2014, is hitting .219 with a .601 OPS, perhaps strained by the large workload during Ramos’s injuries. (Suzuki’s option vests at $9.25 million with 113 starts this season.) Ramos said his right knee and left hamstring have responded well to the regular playing time and have given him no indication he needs some rest.

“As long as they keep giving me more regular playing time, it’s good for me,” Ramos said. “I feel good batting and I want to keep get that opportunity to keep playing to take advantage of this good stretch.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.

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James Wagner · July 14, 2013