Having held on to first place until that point in spite of a series of injuries to their catching corps, the Washington Nationals acquired Kurt Suzuki from Oakland in a post-deadline deal in early August last summer, sending backstop prospect David Freitas to the A's seven months after they'd dealt their top catching prospect, Derek Norris, to the Athletics as one of four players in the package for Gio Gonzalez. Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said from the start, however, that Suzuki was not a rental. He was under contract through 2013 with a team option for 2014.
"'He's not a rental,'" Rizzo told reporters including CSN Washington.com's Mark Zuckerman, after the trade, "'He's going to be here for more than this season. He's a guy who can really take that rotation together and get it going better than it already has.'" Suzuki came to the Nationals with a .218/.250/.286 line, 15 doubles and one home run 75 games and 278 plate appearances into his sixth MLB season.
In his first month with Washington, Suzuki had a .222/.275/.302 line with two doubles and a home run in 17 games and 71 PAs. Over the last month-plus of the season, however, the 28-going-on-29-year-old catcher had a .301/.355/.482 line with three doubles and four home runs in 26 games and 93 PAs. Suzuki went 4 for 17 in the five-game NLDS matchup with the Cardinals in the first postseason action of the Wailuku, Hawaii-born catcher's career.
Wilson Ramos returned ready to go at the start of Spring Training this year, and after he was cleared by doctors, the 25-year-old catcher quickly convinced the Nationals, who were planning on working him back slowly, that he was capable of splitting the duties behind the plate 50/50 from the start. Ramos started on Opening Day, a reward, Davey Johnson explained, for the hard work he did to get back.
Ramos had a .300/.391/.600 line with two home runs in six games and 23 PAs before he suffered the hamstring injury running out a groundout late in last Saturday's loss to the Braves. "[He's] playing very well and hits the ball hard," Johnson told reporters, "tries to leg it out and pulls a hammy." The Nationals called up Jhonatan Solano when they placed Ramos on the DL, but the injury was apparently not as bad as originally feared, though it is another delay in the highly-regarded catcher's development.
"I think he's frustrated, that's how I would describe it," the Nationals' GM told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier on Wednesday afternoon's The Mike Rizzo Show when he was asked about Ramos' demeanor. "He's working extremely hard to get back, and thankfully it wasn't a nasty hamstring injury. It was between a Level 1 and a Level 2 which is the better of the levels -- the lower the better -- and we think that after his 15 days on the DL are up he should be able to play for us and get back into the swing of it because he did start off catching extremely well and swinging it extremely well."
"[Ramos] is a guy that we can certainly could use in the lineup," Rizzo said, "He and Kurt had a really good thing going and really separated us, as far as catching depth and catching production, from a lot of other teams and that's something that we will employ throughout the season." Solano can fill in when needed while the Nationals wait for Ramos, and in the meantime, Suzuki continues to rake.
10 games into his seventh major league season, Suzuki has a .360/.485/.800 line with three doubles, a triple and two home runs in his first 34 plate appearances. Last night in Miami, the Nats' catcher went 2 for 3 with the triple and a home run. The solo blast went 377 ft to left out near the Clevelander in Marlins Park and gave Ross Detwiler, who was in the midst of another strong start, a little breathing room with a two-run lead at 3-1 in the fifth.
"Suzuki's been outstanding," Davey Johnson said after last night's win, "He did a heck of a job during the pennant race last year, and he's been outstanding. He's always working hard and handles the pitching staff great. He can get beat up and he keeps coming." In addition to handling the Nats' staff, 53 games and 198 plate appearances into his time in the nation's capital, Suzuki now has a .281/.349/.462 line with eight doubles and seven home runs.