The Nationals began preparing for life without starting catcher Wilson Ramos, for at least a month, on Wednesday. Fresh from Harrisburg, backup catcher Sandy Leon was in the clubhouse. Jose Lobaton now assumed the role of everyday catcher. All felt bad for Ramos, who has been snakebitten with injuries in recent seasons.
“It’s sad to see a friend, after spending this time together getting to know each other, and to see him get hurt, it’s sad,” Lobaton said. “All we can do is pray to God that he recovers quickly and to keep going.”
“I’m happy because I’m here; that’s the goal of every player to get in the big leagues,” Leon added. “But I feel sad and bad for Wilson. He’s my friend. He’s my teammate. He’s from Venezuela. We’ve played together since 2012. They called me up then when he got hurt. I just want him to help the team and play. He plays so good. He can be a superstar.”
The Nationals announced that Ramos’s hamate bone surgery, performed by hand/wrist specialist Kenneth Means in Baltimore, was successful. Ramos was then expected to head back to Washington to begin his rehab.
Manager Matt Williams said that only the hamate bone was removed and there were no issues with Ramos’s nerves. As a result, Williams said that recovery usually lasts six to eight weeks, but he believed Ramos could return in perhaps four to six weeks if all goes well. Williams pointed to minor league infielder Josh Johnson, who was in major league camp, and had his hamate bone removed six weeks ago and was already back to playing in games.
“Wilson has had to go through a lot of stuff,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has had a hamate bone removed. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the game. Willie was going to be a big part of the offense. Luckily, it doesn’t seem like it’s anything too serious. You’d almost rather it be that than wrist or something. I guess that’s a positive, if you can take any positives out of it.”
Shortstop Ian Desmond underwent a botched hamate bone procedure prior to 2008 and then underwent another surgery to remove the bone in 2009. Desmond “hit perfectly fine” that year, he said. He ascended to the majors that season and never felt he lost the ability to hit home runs. A hitter’s power is said to be slow to return following hamate bone surgery.
“I don’t understand how people can correlate lack of power with a hamate bone being taken out,” Desmond said. “The only part it’s affecting is resting the knob of your bat right there. Buffalo is strong enough to overcome.”
It is unclear how Ramos hurt his hand. Williams initially said that Ramos may have hurt it on a foul tip and then felt it worse on a swing during Monday’s game. Hamate bone issues usually appear as wrist pain at first, and Ramos dealt with that the last week of spring training. Williams said the signs then didn’t point to a hamate bone issue, simply some wrist discomfort so the Nationals rested Ramos some in the final week and he felt fine.
Ramos could have been hit on his glove hand with a foul tip, but the foul tip in Monday’s game hit Ramos on his side not his hand. Williams now believes that it may have happened on a swing. After his third at-bat on Monday, Ramos couldn’t take the pain anymore and manual tests afterwards pointed to a hamate bone issue. But could this injury have been avoided? “I don’t know how you do,” Williams said. “How do you avoid that?”
Lobaton said he texted with Ramos and sent him messages of encouragement. Ramos instead told Lobaton to take advantage of his opportunity and to help Leon along. Lobaton, acquired in a mid-February trade and still adjusting to all the Nationals pitchers, will now lead the staff. He started 76 games last season for the Rays, who made the playoffs as the American League’s top wild card team. Also used frequently used as a pinch hitter, the switch-hitting Lobaton posted a slash line of .249/.320/.394. The Nationals like Lobaton’s ability to frame pitches.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Lobaton said. “It’s a challenge for me and a challenge that I’m ready for and work with the quality of pitchers we have here. It’s not a change in mentality, though, or doing things differently. I’m going to keep playing the way I have.”
The Nationals turned to Leon because Williams liked his defensive abilities and reports on his winter ball play were good. Switch-hitting Leon hit .173 last season after hitting .322 in the minors the year before. He said he has felt better at the plate, despite few a .158 average this spring. He now hits with a better and simpler hitting approach.
“My average wasn’t there but I felt good,” he said. “I felt good hitting. Defensively, I felt really good. I was focused this spring, fighting for a chance to make the team. I just wanted to be here.”