Matt Williams saw positive signs that Washington Nationals' catcher Wilson Ramos was coming around at the plate after struggling to get his timing back upon returning from surgery remove the hamate bone from his left hand. Even after the 26-year-old backstop went 0 for 4 in Saturday afternoon's loss to the New York Mets, Williams talked about Ramos being close to regaining his form.
Ramos flew out to right in his first at bat on Saturday, taking a first-pitch fastball from Bartolo Colon for a ride. He lined out to right the second time up and grounded out to second in his third at bat. With a runner on in the ninth inning, Ramos worked the count full against Mets' closer Jenrry Mejia, but chased a slider outside for the first out of the frame.
"In the last inning," Williams said afterwards, "Wilson's 3-2 slider... if he lays off of that we're in business, but it's a daring pitch by Mejia too, knowing that if [Ramos] doesn't swing at that then you've got two guys on base. He's not quite there yet, Wilson, but it's close. He's starting to line some balls the other way. He's close."
If Ramos was close before Sunday afternoon's series finale with the Mets, he got there in his eighth game since returning from the DL.
Against a team he's crushed in his major league career to the tune of a .365/.387/.663 line with 10 doubles and seven home runs in 31 games and 111 plate appearances before today, Ramos was 2 for 3 with a walk and four RBIs on Sunday, breaking a 1-1 tie up with a two-run double on a hanging slider in the third and then driving in what ended up being the winning run the next time up when he hit a bases-loaded two-run single to left in the fifth for a 5-1 lead in what ended up a 6-3 game in the Nationals' favor.
"He's been trying to find it since he's been back," Williams said after the Nationals' 23rd win of the season. "But he's close. Told us last couple of days, he told us he felt good. Legs feel good. And his swing is getting close. And today he hit a slider for a double and a fastball in down the line for a two-run single."
It was Ramos' third straight start for the Nationals, who have been cautious with the oft-injured catcher since he started the rehab process after breaking the hamate bone in his left hand on Opening Day in New York.
"There was a conversation last night about how he felt," the Nats' skipper said today. "And he was adamant about playing today, because he felt that it was coming along. He's been scoring from first and he advanced on a ball in the dirt today. And all indications are his legs are good. We don't want to push him too hard though."
Having Ramos healthy and available, finally, is a big boost for a team that has been beset by injuries from the start this season.
"It's important for our team, " Williams said. "As evidenced today. He gets up there with guys in scoring position and he knows what to do."
Ramos is a .269/.338/.412 hitter with runners in scoring position so far in his career. Williams was asked this afternoon what allows the catcher to remain calm in those tense situations.
"His heart rate doesn't increase," the former major league slugger-turned-manager said. "And that's key for anybody in the middle of a lineup driving in runs. You see that with Jayson [Werth], you see it with him, you see it with [Ryan Zimmerman]. It's no different at bat just because there are guys out there. And he's got a good idea on what the guy is going to try to do to him. The situation of the game, what that dictates."
The Nationals got Ramos back over a week ago now. They got their hard-hitting, middle-of-the-lineup thumper back today.