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Washington Nationals defeat Atlanta Braves, 6-2

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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010; 12:16 AM

ATLANTA - At 1:11 Thursday afternoon, Wilson Ramos trotted a few steps from the dugout to the place the Washington Nationals believe he will occupy for a long time. Right there, crouching behind home plate, was one reason - dressed in shin guards and a chest protector - to look beyond the dreary present and believe.

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Three weeks ago, the Nationals shipped their closer to the Minnesota Twins, a tacit and unnecessary admission that seasons to come mattered more than the current one. Thursday, the Nationals raised the curtain on the return.

In a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves, Ramos made his Nationals debut before an announced 15,593 at Turner Field. He went 0 for 4 at the plate, but the Nationals are most hopeful about what he can do behind it. Ramos capably handled victorious starting pitcher John Lannan (5-5) and made a crucial and impressive defensive play late in the game.

All the other ingredients for a win joined together. The Nationals (52-69) scored six runs on seven hits, all of which either produced a base runner who scored or drove in a run. In his return from the disabled list, Nyjer Morgan went 2 for 4 with a stolen base and two runs. Michael Morse and Willie Harris drilled home runs, Harris's two-run blast sealing the game in the ninth inning. Their bullpen - including a critical one-pitch escape act by Joel Peralta - yielded nothing in 32/3 innings.

But the unveiling of Ramos added significance, making the victory feel more like a milepost than a means to avoid another sweep.

"He's going to be a part of the future here," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's got to go out and show he's capable and so forth. All the reports are he's got a chance to be a starting catcher in the major leagues. We're anxious to get a little glimpse of him."

Ramos, who turned 23 on Aug. 10, woke up in Louisville two days prior, but no observer would have guessed he was out there playing the ninth major league game of his career, the first with his new team. "I was relaxed," Ramos said. "I like to have fun." If he stood out, it was only because of his tree-trunk legs and hands that looked like they could snap bricks in half.

One day, Ramos may or may not hit bushels of home runs. He will, barring something unforeseen, be a game-controlling force on defense.

In the eighth inning, the Braves (71-50) tested him. Down by two runs, with no outs and men on first and second, Martin Prado squared to sacrifice bunt and nudged the ball toward third base. Ramos pounced and looked up - "I knew I could go to third," he said.

Ramos rocketed the ball to Ryan Zimmerman with enough time for Zimmerman to fire across the diamond. Replays showed it probably should have been a double play, but Prado was called safe.

"He had the courage to take the advance out instead of the safer play," Riggleman said.

Ramos worked comfortably with Lannan, clearly in control. Ramos had spoken with pitching coach Steve McCatty during Wednesday night's game. In the bullpen Thursday morning, Lannan explained to Ramos where he throws his sinker, his curveball, etc.


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