Wilson Ramos spent six weeks on the sidelines last summer with a hamstring injury. He returned on July 4th in the nation's capital where the Washington Nationals took on the Milwaukee Brewers and immediately made an impact.
The then-25-year-old catcher struck out in his first at bat, but singled the second time up, drove three in with a single to center in his third at bat and then hit a tie-breaking three-run home run in his final trip to the plate that day in what ended up an 8-5 Nationals' win.
"You know, I was talking to Randy [Knorr]," Davey Johnson told reporters after Ramos went 3 for 4 with 5 RBIs in his return to the lineup, "I said, 'He's had a good day, he might as well just hit one out here.' And boom! Sure enough he did."
Ramos continued to impress throughout the rest of 2013 campaign, posting a .276/.307/.477 line with six doubles and 14 HRs in 251 plate appearances over the final 64 games of the season. Coming into the 2014 season, the goal was to stay healthy and in the lineup so the Nationals could find out what the big backstop could do with a full season's worth of at bats, which he's only had once before in his career in 2011, when he made 435 plate appearances and put up a .267/.334/.445 line with 22 doubles and 15 HRs in 113 games over which he was worth +3.0 fWAR.
Toward the end of the 2013 season, the now-former Nats' skipper was asked if he ever wondered what the catcher, who turned 26 last August, could do if he could stay on the field for a full season.
"It's 100 RBIs and 28 bombs," Johnson said, "huge difference."
The broken hamate bone in his left hand guaranteed that we won't find out what a mature and fully-developed Ramos can do with a full season this summer, but after a month-plus out of the lineup to start the season he returned yesterday and once again made an immediate impact. Ramos doubled to left-center off Los Angeles Dodgers' starter Dan Haren on the first pitch he saw in Wednesday's series finale with LA, and hit an RBI sac fly in his third at bat that drove in what ended up being the game-winning run in the Nats' 3-2 series clincher.
Ramos caught Haren last season when the right-hander was part of the Nationals' rotation and he told reporters including CSNWashington.com's Chase Hughes after the game on Wednesday that he was ready for the pitch he took to left for a double.
"'I know Haren, I know how he likes to pitch,'" Ramos said. "'I was waiting for one pitch in the zone and he threw it to me and I hit it hard.'"
"I just saw the pitch in the zone and I made a good swing and it happened," Ramos explained to MASN's Dan Kolko in a post-game interview on the field in Nats Park. "I'm here. I'm ready every time I go to home plate I will hit everything they throw me in the zone."
Nationals' Manager Matt Williams was certainly happy to have Ramos back in the lineup and behind the plate.
"He looked good," Williams said after Ramos went 1 for 2 with a walk and the RBI sac fly. "First pitch he's seen since he came back was a double. And he looked fine to me. Threw the ball real good to second base. Almost got Dee [Gordon] when he was stealing and went first-to-third fine and no issues, so that's a good sign."
Ramos was stranded at third after walking and going around the bases on a single to right by Danny Espinosa, as the Nationals tried to pick up an insurance run late in the game. In his first game back he hit fifth yesterday, and connected for one of the eight hits the Nationals collected in the third game of three with the Dodgers.
Williams was asked about the impact his presence alone makes in what becomes a tougher order to get through for opposing pitchers when the Nationals have all of their weapons in the lineup. "I think it's thick and deep when everybody's there," Williams said, and having Ramos back, "... it just adds. He has the ability to drive runs in. He understands. He's calm up there regardless of the situation. Understands the strike zone. And he's been there and he's done that so it's nice to have him back."
Can he stay on the field? When he returned last July he was determined to prove he was durable and Davey Johnson rode the catcher, playing him as often as possible. By the end of the year Johnson said he was convinced that Ramos was durable enough to be a no.1 catcher.
"You can get labeled as injury-prone," he said. "For him to come back and catch as good and as often as he has, just proves his point. He's durable."
The broken hamate bone was just another random/freak injury, but it followed two hamstring injuries in 2013 and the torn ACL and meniscus which cut his 2012 season short. Ramos may have proven his durability last year, but he's going to have to make his point again this summer... if he can stay in the lineup.