Washington Nationals' Manager Matt Williams told reporters this afternoon that rehabbing catcher Wilson Ramos took batting practice today for the first time since breaking the hamate bone in his left hand on Opening Day in Citi Field in New York.
This past Monday, the Nats' skipper said Williams was right on schedule in his rehab, and, "maybe a little bit ahead, actually." At that point the 26-year-old catcher was swinging a modified bat and hitting balls off a tee. Today, he took batting practice.
"He took early BP and he looks good," Williams said.
"As we spoke about, at this point it's pain tolerance," he explained. "Structurally, everything his good. The bone is removed, the scar is healing. It's not just a skin scar either, they go in there, so there's constant work being done on that. And you loosen it up and then it mattes down again over night because that's your body's way of healing, so that's an everyday process. But he swung the bat today in early batting practice and looked good."
Ramos has, however, been out of action for close to a month, so there's work to be done as he rehabs from surgery and tries to get back in the lineup.
"He has to get strength back and all of that too, but so far, so good," Williams said. "Pretty fast. All things considered."
Ramos knows the Nationals' pitchers well enough that Williams said once he's healthy and in game shape, he should be fine returning to his position behind the plate.
"I think he knows our pitching staff better than anybody else," the first-year skipper told reporters. "So that's a comfort level for the pitchers. That's a comfort level for the catchers certainly. That being said, I think our catchers have done a fine job. But any time you lose somebody of that caliber it's going to hurt your club in one way or another."
Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon have done the catching in Ramos' absence, but the Nationals have missed their no.1 catcher, his bat and his defense.
"He knows these guys, he's caught these guys for a long time, there's comfort level there," Williams said.
As for how long the rehab process will continue, there are no specific target dates or plans at this point.
"I think that that's kind of an open-ended schedule," Williams admitted. "It depends on his pain tolerance. So, we're 30 days in-ish. That's pretty fast. And it's a major operation, to get in there and take that bone out and start the prcocess. It's not like they left it in there and let it heal back together. They took part of it out.
"So that bone is still fresh in there. It's still painful. He's not going to hurt it any more structurally, but it's a question of his pain tolerance. And it's also a question of him getting back into game speed and game situations, because he just hasn't been able to do it yet."
Taking BP was a big step, next Ramos will get back behind the plate.
"He'll catch bullpens, he'll go through all of the work that [Randy Knorr] and [Bob Henley] and Matty LeCroy will put him through this weekend from a defensive perpsective and then we'll see where we're at at the end of the weekend. What we can and can't do, but so far it's been pretty good."
Ramos will be working with the Nationals' coaches for now, rather than catching pitchers.
"I don't think it will be a full-blown, 95 mph bullpen," Williams said, "but we'll simulate something, so he can pass that hurdle and go from there."
Williams also stressed that his catching the ball, which Ramos, of course, does with his left hand, is a big part of the recovery process.
"The catching part is the biggest thing," he told reporters. "Swinging the bat is one thing, you have two hands on it, but being a catcher is completely different. We're not worried about blocking balls, things of that nature. He's got a little addition to his glove, a pad that runs up over the palm of his hand that will help with that, but the strength of catching the ball, that's a key. Swinging the bat is one thing, but 100+ times in a game [catching the ball], he's got to make sure that he can do that properly to get out and play again."
The goal, Williams explained, is to get Ramos back doing what he's used to doing rather than rushing him back and having him compensate for the injury.
"You want to be as normal as possible," Williams said, "and that will allow him to catch properly and be comfortable and get back behind the plate. So that's the process. I don't think it will be a long process, but still, we have to go through those to make sure that he's ready to go."