A quick play at the plate is one of the hardest to simulate, and Suzuki has practiced it this way since 2008. “That’s the only reason why I do it, is to practice getting in a good position,” Suzuki said. “So I don’t get smashed at home plate.”
The Nationals will avoid attrition behind the plate any way they can. Last season, injuries forced them to cycle through five catchers and necessitated the midseason trade for Suzuki. Only one — rookie Sandy Leon, in his first game — suffered an injury while blocking the plate. But one of baseball’s riskiest plays presents a new worry for this season, as Wilson Ramos returns after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee last year.
Ramos hurt his knee while innocently chasing a passed ball, a mundane action that cost him his season. He has healed so completely that Manager Davey Johnson has reconsidered his stance to make Suzuki the opening day catcher and given Ramos the chance to compete. Thursday night, Ramos caught a complete game for the first time and nailed Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons trying to steal third base.
“If I say this, I don’t know if anybody can believe it,” Ramos said afterward. “But I feel better than before I got hurt.”
Spring training has yet to present Ramos and his surgically repaired knee with a play at the plate that would force him to make a split-second decision. He insisted nothing would change. He would not seek contact, but if the situation called for it, he would stand in front of the plate and absorb a collision.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” Ramos said. “If I have an opportunity to block the plate, that’s reaction. When I play, I forget everything. I forget the knee. I just play hard. If get an opportunity to block home plate, I will block home plate. But if I get an opportunity to just tag the runner, I would do it. I don’t want to get in a collision and get out of the game.”
Around baseball, the collision between a runner trying to score and a prone catcher has come under scrutiny. San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy and St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny, both former catchers, have called for the league to ban the play, to force runners to slide rather than lower their shoulder. Some teams have instructed catchers to avoid contact — preventing one run, they reason, is not worth losing a catcher for an extended period of time.