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Wilson Ramos again eager to prove he can stay healthy

Wilson Ramos, right, holds the door as he and his brother Natanael Ramos return to the clubhouse after hitting in the batting cages at Space Coast Stadium on Thursday. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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It feels like a rite of spring: Wilson Ramos, built like a tank and fresh off an offseason of training, reporting to camp healthy and declaring his desire to stay that way. But after recovering from a knee injury in 2012, the unlucky catcher suffered multiple hamstring strains in 2013 that made him miss significant time and then he broke his hamate bone and re-strained his hamstring last season. Ramos certainly can’t be faulted for a lack of resilience.

As pitchers and catchers officially reported to Viera on Thursday, Ramos, 27, again proclaimed his grand goals. He wants to catch 120-130 games, a bar he has yet to reach in the majors (113 is his career high, in 2011). “I think this is the year to do that,” he said. He believes he has found the right workout regimen to keep his legs intact.

“I’m working with my legs a lot,” he said. “The last three years I had problems with my leg. But this year, the offseason I worked a lot with my legs. I was really working on my agility. This year, I feel 100 percent. I feel like I’m running without problems. When I feel 100 percent when I’m running in the field, that’s when I don’t have any problems behind the plate. I ran 100 percent down in my country and it feels great.”

While rehabbing his hamstring last season, Ramos learned from team doctors that perhaps he was lifting too much with his legs and his muscles were too tight, which led to injuries when he ran. So he stopped trying to get his lower body so strong and instead more flexible. He did more stretching and agility training late in the season and even more in the offseason. He ran a lot, with cones, in zig-zags, sideways, backward.

Ramos said he still weighs the same — his upper body, however, looks stronger  — but admitted his body and legs feel “a lot different right now.” Different for Ramos means better.

He still plans on approaching baserunning the same way: running 100 percent when needed but, if not, running casually down the baseline. “I have to play smart,” he said. As he always does, he played winter ball in his native Venezuela, mostly as a designated hitter, and his legs responded well to running at full speed.

A highlight of playing in Venezuela for Ramos was being on the same team as his younger brothers David, 23, a pitcher, and Natanael, 21, a catcher. With their entire family watching, they all played in a game for the Tigres de Aragua. David pitched, Natanael started behind the plate and Wilson played first, a position he hasn’t played since a handful of games in 2006 in the low minors.

“That was a little bit scary, because I never played first base before, not since the [Gulf Coast League],” Ramos said. “That was a long time ago. It was good. I got two groundballs. That was fun. Easy position,” he added with a laugh.

From Venezuela, Ramos also followed news of the Nationals’ busy offseason, including the addition of Max Scherzer. Ramos said he was surprised at first at Scherzer’s signing but is thrilled to have the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner as a teammate. He hasn’t caught Scherzer yet so spring training is the time to learn about each others’ tendencies.

“With this guy, it feels really good to have the best rotation in baseball,” Ramos said.