Wilson Ramos leaned on a fence as four pitchers – Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and Drew Storen – lined up side-by-side and threw bullpen sessions, the start to the Nationals’ first workout of spring. Wearing silver shin guards and a silver chest protector, Ramos watched them finish and then stepped behind the plate as the next group arrived.
“Whoa!” pitching coach Steve McCatty hollered from the row of mounds. “Got the Tin Man back there!”
For Ramos, a routine rite of spring carried extra meaning and brought extra nerves. Ramos squatted and caught for an extended period for the first time since last May, when he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee and required major surgery. As he crouched 60 feet, 6 inches away from Zach Duke, Ramos felt a mixture of fear and elation.
“It’s a long time since I’ve been behind the plate, so I was a little bit scared,” Ramos said. “But I didn’t feel any pain or sore. I feel excited to be behind the plate again.”
Ramos, sitting by his locker with a bag of ice wrapped around his knee, felt his knee tire more today than it would have prior to his injury. Duke threw two balls in the dirt during his session, and rather than try to slide on his knees and block, Ramos only flipped his glove to stop the ball.
“Maybe because I’m scared a little bit for block,” Ramos said. “But I’m going to start blocking soon. For next time, I think I will block those balls.”
Ramos will catch another bullpen session tomorrow, but only one compared to the three or four most catchers go through on a spring training day. Doctors told him to go slow, and he will listen. By the end of spring, he wants to be catching as many as his partners.
But the first one mattered to him. He had squatted some, but he hadn’t stayed crouched and tested his repaired knee as much as he did today.
“He was grinning from ear-to-ear, happy about it,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I think he had a little trepidation about it going in about how he’d feel, but he looked great to me.”
Aside from the initial caution, Ramos pushed the knee out of his thoughts. He is determined to win back his starting position, even if Johnson has deemed Kurt Suzuki the starter as Ramos regains his full strength.
“I clean my mind now,” Ramos said. “I’m just concentrating on getting my starting position again. That’s what I want. If I think too much, I might not be ready. I just clear my mind, don’t think too much. Just go out there and keep working.
“I was going crazy at my house. Last year, I was crazy just watching the game on TV. This year, I have to be strong mentally. It was a hard year for me, because I came back for my surgery. Hopefully, I will work hard to be behind the plate for opening day.”