(Jonathan Newton/TWP) (Jonathan Newton/TWP)

Wilson Ramos readied his catcher’s gear on Tuesday morning at his locker in the Nationals‘ clubhouse. He unwrapped a new face mask and chest guard, and adjusted his knee protectors. He was, for the first time in nine months since suffering a major injury to his right knee, going to crouch behind a plate in a baseball game.

Ramos’ life since injuring his ACL and meniscus last May has been regimented. Timetables for a return. Hurdles. Benchmarks. On Saturday, he was finally given full medical clearance to appear in a game. Sunday he took his first at-bats. And on Tuesday, in a 7-1 Nationals win over the Houston Astros, he was back in his most comfortable position on the field: behind home plate, putting down signs for pitches.

“He looked great,” Manager Davey Johnson said.

Ramos, 25, caught three innings and struck out in his lone appearance. He looked comfortable at the plate. He didn’t appear to favor his right knee at all. When starter Dan Haren uncorked an off-speed pitch that broke out of the strike zone in the third inning, Ramos dove to his right, landing on his surgically repaired knee, and blocked the ball. He looked agile and natural enough behind home plate that new teammate Haren, who wasn’t exactly sure how Ramos got hurt last season, was fooled.

“He seemed like he’s been catching for a while back there,” Haren said. “I didn’t see him stabbing at balls or anything. He’s a nice, big target, good guy to have back there.”

Ramos was already gone from the Nationals’ clubhouse when the game ended. He will rest on Wednesday and be back in a game on Thursday as a designated hitter, alternating with Ryan Zimmerman in the spot in the lineup.

The Nationals have been extremely pleased with Ramos’s progress and drive. In only nine months, he was back behind a plate in a game catching. That is, by all accounts, quicker than originally expected. He stayed in Washington most of the winter in order to stay on top of his rehab program and work with his physical therapist.

“That really showed me that he was really serious about his work,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “It could have been the easy thing to go home [to Venezuela] and relax and do your workouts. But he was there every day, grinding, painful rehab. I’m so proud of him.”

Rizzo sat in his usual seat in the stands during Sunday’s game when Ramos took his first in-game at-bats. Ramos lined out in his first at-bat — a meaningless result but significant to Rizzo. “[He] really used his his lower half and I saw no restriction on his lower half. It was a good sign,” he said.

But Rizzo’s purest joy came in his second at-bat in that game, a double off the right field wall that missed being a home run by a few feet. “So far the best day of spring training was when Ramos hit that double,” he said.