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How the Nationals will replace injured Wilson Ramos in the lineup

Jose Lobaton is more important to these Nationals now than ever. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

But after Ramos tore his anterior cruciate ligament Monday night, Lobaton is now the incumbent, or so it would seem. Neither Dusty Baker nor Mike Rizzo would say for sure that Lobaton will be the de facto starter in Ramos’s absence.

In fact, both implied that Pedro Severino will get some playing time over the last five games of the regular season. Switch-hitting Lobaton hurt his ankle about two weeks ago, and it bothers him when he hits right-handed — something he has done 17 times all season. Severino is a natural right-handed hitter, though he is known more for his defense than for standout offensive potential.

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We’re going to see what the next couple teams bring us,” Rizzo said. “I’m sure we’re going to go with some matchups, depending on who we’re playing and who’s pitching that night. We’ll kind of take it from there.”

Lobaton’s best offensive season came with Tampa Bay in 2013, when he appeared in 100 games — a career high — and hit .249. Like most players, his track record shows improved offensive performance with regular playing time — something he has not had for the last few seasons while Ramos has stayed healthy. Lobaton is a .222 career hitter from the right side and .229 from the left, which is where he has gotten most of his at-bats this season.

“It’s not what I want, but it’s the opportunity I have to take,” said Lobaton, of the playing time he will get now. “There’s a lot of responsibility for me to do my best and to help the team win the World Series. That’s all we want.”

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Severino, meanwhile, is a 23-year-old rookie who never hit better than .250 in any season of his minor league career until this year; he finished with a .271 average in 82 games at Class AAA Syracuse. If the Nationals choose to match up with lefties in the postseason, and no one has committed to that yet, Severino could be the right-handed hitting choice to face Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill in the first two games of the National League Division Series. Ramos was hitting .330 against left-handed pitching with nine home runs. In his brief major league career, Severino is 0 for 2 against lefties.

“He’s a great young talent. He’s a great prospect. Catch and throw, frame and block. He’s got an outstanding arm. Controls the running game really, really well,” Rizzo said. Severino is “really coming into his own offensively and his stroke is much more efficient now than it has been in the past. He’s taken a big step forward this year in [Class AAA]. He’s a bright-future guy. He’s one of our best prospects, but he’s young and inexperienced and we’re throwing him into the deep end of the pool and expecting him to swim with the big boys.”

No one could reasonably suggest that the Nationals will be better off in the playoffs without one of the best offensive catchers in baseball than with him, but the loss of Ramos may not be as crippling as it seems. Nationals pitchers think highly of Lobaton’s game-calling and receiving skills.

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According to StatCorner, which measures and tracks pitch framing, Lobaton gets a higher percentage of pitches thrown outside the zone called strikes than any catcher in baseball, 10.8 percent. Ramos ranked in the middle of the pack, with 6.9 percent. Severino has not played enough major league games to make his defensive numbers reliable.

Severino also has not had the opportunity to catch many of the Nationals pitchers, and may therefore have to do so for the first time in October. Lobaton, on the other hand, is familiar with most of them. He caught Max Scherzer Tuesday night, and while Scherzer was hit hard early, he settled in and struck out 10 in six innings, while also breaking up a no-hitter with his base hit in the sixth.

Scherzer is “special. I was kind of like a little bit worried before in the second half when we started, because I didn’t catch him at all. I need to catch that guy, because he’s got a good slider, he’s got that fastball up; it’s not the same as anybody,” Lobaton said. “I was kind of like, I need that guy. Then I got him three times. So I’m feeling much better with him. I want every pitcher here to feel comfortable every time I’m behind the plate. So if I play more, they can show me that and they can trust me.”