The focus remains heavily on Bryce Harper’s ensuing return as he prepares to play another six innings tonight at Class A Potomac, but the Nationals will soon get another significant piece of their lineup back, too.
Catcher Wilson Ramos could return as soon as July 4, just one week from Thursday, Manager Davey Johnson said. Ramos has missed 51 games this season with two hamstring injuries, and he last played May 15 in Los Angeles. Ramos has been catching bullpen sessions at extended spring training in Viera, Fla., and should begin a rehab assignment shortly.
“He’s real close,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We’ve got Neil Diamond coming on the 4th, and [Gen.] Martin Dempsey is also coming to sing the national anthem. I’m more interested to hear Neil Diamond than I am Dempsey, but I’m hoping Mr. Ramos can make it up here then.”
Since Ramos last played, Suzuki has played in 29 of 36 games, a massive workload for a catcher. The wear has perhaps shown in his performance at the plate. Before Ramos went down for a second time, Suzuki was hitting .247/.326/.407. Since Ramos suffered his second left hamstring strain, Suzuki has hit .184/.241/.223 with no homers over 112 plate appearances.
The Nationals badly need offense, and Ramos – especially combined with Harper’s return – figures to provide an upgrade.
“He’s a tremendous catcher; he’s got tremendous bat potential, too,” Johnson said. “He’s got a little more thump with the bat. We’re looking for anything.”
Ramos’s return brings a noteworthy contractual component for Suzuki. Suzuki owns a $9.25 million option for 2014 that will vest if he starts 113 games this year. Suzuki has started 54 so far, which puts him on pace for 115. But with Ramos’s pending return, Suzuki’s playing time will diminish.
The Nationals could also receive a boost shortly in the bullpen. Last night, Christian Garcia threw a scoreless inning and struck out two batters at Class AAA Syracuse. Johnson said Garcia still needs another four or five appearances, noting that Garcia’s velocity was down from his usual high-90s.
Garcia has recovered from the partially torn forearm tendon that sidelined him to start the year. Garcia’s comeback, though, was derailed when he experienced shoulder soreness.