Catcher Wilson Ramos walked into the Nationals clubhouse Wednesday morning wearing a gray suit and sunglasses, still unsure if he would play. Minutes later, he strutted out of the manger’s office, and his smile gave him away.
Ramos will catch and bat fifth Wednesday afternoon against the Dodgers, his first major-league appearance since he left opening day in the seventh inning because of a broken hamate bone that required surgery two days later. The Nationals optioned Tuesday’s starter Blake Treinen back to the minors to make room for Ramos, and they will decide later whether they will carry three catchers into the near future. For now, they are elated to welcome back a middle-of-the-order slugger and a rock behind the plate.
“I’m ready to go,” Ramos said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment.”
Ramos will give a boost to an offense that has been staying afloat without him, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. Nationals catchers Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon have posted a .623 OPS, which ranks 25th in the majors.
“With Ramos in the lineup, offensively, our lineup is so much better,” reliever Tyler Clippard said. “Not saying the other guys we have aren’t doing the job. Wilson is a presence in the box. He’s a threat to hit 30 homers every year. When you have a guy like that in the lineup we already have, it makes it a lot better.”
Manager Matt Williams wants to be cautious with Ramos, who missed two months last year because of hamstring strains. The Nationals’ schedule will allow them to ease Ramos in. They have an off-day Thursday, and the Nationals can use Ramos as the designated hitter Friday in Oakland if they wish.
“I don’t think we can expect too much,” Williams said. “With Wilson, I think that there will be some timing issues. There always is, regardless of whether you’ve had four or five rehab games or 10. There’s always some timing issues. For [him] to set the world on fire the first time out, I wouldn’t expect that to happen.”
Ramos caught nine innings Monday night with Class AA Harrisburg, which Williams called the “final test” in his rehab. Williams watched Ramos take batting practice Tuesday, and spoke with Ramos in his office Wednesday morning. “Just the way he’s moving around,” Williams said, convinced him Ramos would be ready.
Williams said Ramos may feel wrist soreness as he returns, a typical lingering effect after hamate bone surgery. “We just want to make sure we keep an eye on him, especially over the next week or so,” Williams said. “But he’s ready.”
For Wednesday’s game, the Nationals will use three catchers. They will need to make another roster move Friday when right-hander Doug Fister comes off the disabled list to make his season debut. The Nationals will need to use a six-man bullpen, option Tyler Moore or Zach Walters or send down Leon and use two catchers.
“We have to make that decision after the game today or on Friday, when Doug comes off,” Williams said. “We’re still contemplating.”
Wednesday, Ramos will catch Stephen Strasburg. In 27 career starts throwing to Ramos, Strasburg has a 2.97 ERA. Nationals pitchers rave about throwing to Ramos, who knows them well and provides a large target.
“He knows the staff,” Clippard said. “To have that comfort level that we all with him helps, too. We’ve talked throughout the years as far as what we like to do as pitchers. He remembers those things. We’re all kind of on the same page most of the time.”
As for the rest of the Nationals lineup, Kevin Frandsen will play left field for the Nationals. Williams wanted Nate McLouth to face Dodgers starter Dan Haren. But McLouth is still dealing with a gash on his right hand, the most lasting damage from his crash into the wall Monday night as he made an incredible catch. Williams said McLouth would be available off the bench.
1. Deanrd Span, CF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
3. Jayson Werth, RF
4. Adam LaRoche, 1B
5. Wilson Ramos, C
6. Ian Desmond, SS
7. Danny Espinosa, 2B
8. Kevin Frandsen, LF
9. Stephen Strasburg, SP
1. Dee Gordon, 2B
2. Carl Crawford, LF
3. Hanely Ramirez, SS
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
5. Yasiel Puig, RF
6. Andre Ethier, CF
7. Juan Uribe, 3B
8. Miguel Olivo, C
9. Dan Haren, SP