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Nationals remain cautious as Wilson Ramos says he is ready to return

Wilson Ramos in the season opener. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post) Wilson Ramos in the season opener. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Before he stepped into the batting cages at Nationals Park on Tuesday afternoon, Wilson Ramos declared he was ready to return after spending nearly a month on the disabled list after hamate bone surgery. He caught a full nine innings in a minor league rehab game with Class AA Harrisburg on Monday, a day after hitting a home run with Class A Hagerstown. He also played in two extended spring training games in Viera (Fla.) a week ago, hit two home runs and, he said, his left hand is in good shape.

“I’m ready to go,” Ramos said, adding that he hopes to be activated Wednesday.

The Nationals, however, are being cautious. Because he has been away from the major league staff, Manager Matt Williams and the Nationals staff wanted to personally evaluate Ramos. He took batting practice with the team before Tuesday’s game and showed some power with line drives sprayed around the field. He ran in the outfield. General Manager Mike Rizzo watched Ramos’s swings from behind the batting cage.

Ramos, who has dealt with a variety of leg injuries over the previous two seasons, hasn’t played regularly over the past month and that concerned Williams more than the catcher’s hand strength. A decision on when Ramos will be activated hinges on how he feels after Tuesday’s pre-game workout.

“I know he’s excited,” Williams said. “But it’s a really fast turnaround. That’s a really fast recovery. Our medical guys do a really nice job with that and have a long history of getting guys back quick from that particular injury. But I’m not concerned with that. I’m concerned with his legs and him being fully ready to play.”

Ever since he strained his hamstring twice last season, Ramos has worked diligently on his leg flexibility. During his rehab from the hamate bone surgery he underwent on April 1, Ramos has kept up his leg workouts. Because he hit three home runs during his rehab games, Ramos didn’t run the bases as much as Nationals would have hoped. Ramos believes he is ready.

“My hand feels a little more strong,” he said. “My legs feels good.”

During his rehab game behind the plate Monday, Ramos said he blocked a handful of balls in the dirt and didn’t feel even pain when one hit him in the left wrist. He has been using a catcher’s glove that has an extra pad over his left wrist and a bat with a shaved-down handle, which he will ditch once he feels ready.

Ramos said the hand specialist told him that his left hand will be sore for a while and that’s normal. Hamate surgery can sap players’ power, but Ramos has been encouraged by the home runs he has hit over the past week.

“I understand that it’s a little sore and I don’t have my full power already,” he said. “But I feel the ball is jumping from my bat. It’s jumping farther. It’s good.”

“He feels good,” Rizzo added. “We feel good about that. We’re gonna see how he feels after today’s full workout and make a decision. … He says he feels strong. You can see in the batting practice and the games that he’s played that he still has some strength. There is probably still a bit of a deficiency which will get better as he goes along.”

A cautious approach by the Nationals could allow them to activate him Friday in Oakland. In an American League park, Ramos could be eased back into action as a designated hitter. In that case, Williams said the Nationals could consider keeping three catchers on the roster.

“We have to keep a very close on him as far as playing time goes regardless of four or five or 10 games in a rehab stint,” Williams said. “It’s not like going through a full spring training. I’m not concerned about the injury in and of itself. I’m concerned about his legs and how he reacts catching on a regular basis.”

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010, wrote about high school sports across the region for two years and has covered the Nationals since the middle of the 2012 season.
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