John McDonnell / The Washington Post

Kurt Suzuki will likely be the starting catcher to start the season as Wilson Ramos returns from two major knee surgeries he suffered last season, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said during his Tuesday availability with reporters at the winter meetings in Nashville.

“I love Ramos,” Johnson said. “I love both of them. And I’ll probably use [Ramos] to pinch‑hit more so than I would.”

The Nationals considered Ramos their cornerstone catcher, but after he tore his ACL and meniscus last May and backup Jesus Flores wore down from everyday duties during the season, the team traded for Suzuki from the Oakland Athletics. Suzuki instantly was the Nationals’ everyday catcher from his August trade on, handling the staff well, blocking errant balls with ease and becoming one of the team’s best hitters during a late-season stretch. 

Ramos, who had both right knee surgeries over the summer, is slated to return for spring training and has said he is on track to do so. He has dropped 10 pounds from his sturdy frame to help ease the pressure on his knees and hasten his rehab. His right knee, he said  last month, felt the same as his healthy left knee and he was already doing full body workouts with weights.

Even though Ramos’s progress hasn’t hit any setbacks yet, the Nationals want the insurance for the most demanding position on the diamond, one that requires a lot of squatting and straining of the knees. The Nationals will pay Suzuki $6.45 million in 2013. Johnson wouldn’t commit to naming Ramos the starting catcher once he was healthy and comfortable enough.

“It depends on his mobility and what the doctors say,” Johnson said. “He had two drastic knee surgeries. He really looked good to me with us in the playoffs, and he’s driven. He’s got a lot of potential offensively and defensively. We have two great No.1 catchers.”

Asked how he would split the starting catcher’s job if and when both players were healthy to help avoid wear and tear on each, Johnson answered in his typical cocksure way.

“Whatever I do, I’ll probably be successful at it,” he said. “We’ll just have to see how it goes. Guys go real good, stay a little longer, and cools off, I’ll go with the other guy. But I’m very comfortable with both of them. I think they handle pitching staffs great, blocking and throwing are outstanding.”