Results tagged ‘ Wilson Ramos ’

The Boys of Lumber

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The calendar may have read April 10, but there was the distinct feeling of summer in the air as the Nationals began their second homestand of 2013 Tuesday night. With a first pitch temperature of 81 degrees, baseballs were flying out of Nationals Park more the way they tend to do in summertime than in spring. Or, rather, more the way they did when the Washington lineup finally returned to health last summer than the way they did with the depleted, early-season edition.

Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos are showing early signs of returning to their prior power numbers.

Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos are showing early signs of returning to their prior power numbers.

It can be easy to forget, what with the team’s offensive success in the second half, just how much the Nationals struggled to score runs at times while key members of their lineup were missing. Even once the team was mostly healthy, Jayson Werth’s wrist remained at less than 100 percent strength, while Wilson Ramos would not play again until Opening Day this year.

But look at this lineup right now – there are no breaks, no easy outs. Not just that, but every hitter, one through eight (and even nine, as Gio Gonzalez would have you know), can take a mistake and deposit it over the wall. Werth slugged 20 or more home runs every year from 2008-11, blasting a career best 36 in 2009. Ramos swatted 15 out of the park in less than 400 at-bats two seasons ago before his 2012 was cut short. Considering the three through seven hitters between them combined for 122 homers in under 2,800 at-bats last season (roughly one per 23 at-bats), the current Nationals lineup may well be the most daunting they’ve ever put on the field as a franchise.

Washington has already hit 14 home runs through the season’s first seven games. With the traditional “small sample size” caveat, that puts them on pace for 324 this season, after setting a franchise record with 194 last year. Five players have hit more than one home run. Three – Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Ramos – already have a multi-homer game.

Last year, the Nationals had just four combined homers through seven games, and didn’t hit their 14th until Game #24 on May 2, when Ian Desmond rocked J.J. Putz for a two-out, two-run, ninth-inning, walk-off blast.

That home run ignited the first wave of offense to support the stellar pitching staff. Consider this year’s lineup already ignited.

What to Watch for: 4.9.13

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Chicago White Sox (4-2) vs. Washington Nationals (4-2)

RHP Jake Peavy (1-0, 1.50) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 0.00)

Following an off day on Monday, Washington opens up a six-game homestand with three matchups against the Chicago south siders, beginning tonight. The Nationals and White Sox share identical 4-2 records entering their first meeting since the 2010 season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Gonzalez LHP

FAMILIAR START

At 4-2, the Nationals have matched their finest six-game start since arriving in D.C. in 2005. Last season, Davey Johnson’s Nationals also won four of their first six en route to a 7-2 start.

CATCH THIS!

Through six games, Nationals catchers Wilson Ramos (.444, 2 HR, 3 RBI) and Kurt Suzuki (.333, HR, 3 RBI) are a combined 7-for-16 (.438) with two doubles, three home runs, six RBI, three walks and four runs scored. Ramos and Suzuki have combined on a 1.500 OPS, which ranks second in MLB among catching corps (Cleveland, 1.517).

500 CLUB LOOKING FOR NEWEST MEMBER

With 499 in the bag, Jayson Werth is just one RBI shy of reaching the 500-RBI plateau for his career. 93 of Werth’s 499 career RBI have come with the Nationals. 300 of his RBI came as a Phillie, 90 as a Dodger, and 16 as a Blue Jay. Werth is also just three home runs shy of 150.

What to Watch for: 4.7.13

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Washington Nationals (4-1) vs. Cincinnati Reds (3-2)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-0, 0.00) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (0-0, 1.29)

The Nationals bounced back from their first loss of the season by capturing their first road win and first extra-inning triumph on Saturday, a 7-6 victory in 11 innings. Washington will square off with the Reds in a rubber match battle of aces as the Nats look for consecutive series wins to begin the season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. Tracy 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Detwiler LHP

GREAT VENEZUELAN BALL PARK?

With a timely two-home run effort on Saturday afternoon, Wilson Ramos is now 6-for-18 (.333) with five home runs and eight RBI in five career games at Great American Ball Park. Saturday’s tilt was especially noteworthy for Ramos, as he was playing his first game at Great American Ball Park since sustaining a season-ending right knee injury here on May 12, 2012.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS

At 4-1, the Nationals have established their finest five-game start since arriving in D.C. in 2005. This is the fourth time the Nationals have sported a winning record through five games (4-1 in 2013; 3-2 in 2012, 2008 and 2005).

FIFTH THIRD HOMER

Via a third-inning, two-run shot on Saturday, Bryce Harper became the first National to hit as many as three home runs in the initial five games of a season (2005-13). In fact, Harper’s three homers through five games this year are more than the entire Nationals team hit through the first five games of the 2010 (2) and 2011 (2) campaigns.

The Cardiac Nats Are Back

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Nationals fans who followed the team closely last season were introduced to a term that would carry throughout the year. With the propensity of the team to play close, back-and-forth, stress-filled, ulcer-inducing nail-biters, the phrase “Cardiac Nats” began being thrown around. The 2012 edition of the Nats were 27-21 in one-run games, and 13-7 in extra innings, playing past the ninth a league-high 20 times.

It didn’t take long for the Cardiac Nats to resurface in 2013.

Wilson Ramos blasted a pair of home runs to lead the Nats to a thrilling victory.

Wilson Ramos blasted a pair of home runs to lead the Nats to a thrilling victory.

Just five games into the season, Washington played one of the most gut-wrenching, roller coaster contests in recent memory, watching a 5-1, eighth-inning lead slip away, only to weather the storm and win, 7-6 in 11 frames.

One can only imagine what it would have been like to lose such a game, a thought neither Ian Desmond nor Jayson Werth were willing to entertain afterwards. If the afternoon itself hadn’t been filled with enough drama, the Nationals were coming off the heels of a 15-0 loss the night before, the most lopsided margin of defeat in franchise history since the team moved to Washington.

So what do you do the day after you get beat by 15 runs, then watch a four-run cushion disappear in the late innings? You get back up off the mat.

Desmond, whose pair of errors led to a couple of unearned Reds runs, made sure he took advantage of the opportunity afforded him for redemption leading off the 11th inning. He worked the count to 2-0, then fouled back two consecutive fastballs on big swings. With the count level at 2-2, he destroyed a hanging breaking ball from J.J. Hoover, sending it soaring into the upper deck in left field at Great American Ball Park, an estimated 439 feet from where it left the bat.

Two batters later, Wilson Ramos absolutely demolished his second home run of the game, a 3-2 fastball off the netting behind and above the home bullpen, just to the left of straightaway center field. There are some cheap home runs to be found here in Cincinnati, but Washington’s pair of 11th-inning blasts would have been long gone in any park in the game.

Ramos’ redemption may have been even greater than Desmond’s. After all, his last Major League home run came right here, in Cincinnati, on May 12 of last year, when he tied the game with a solo home run in the fifth inning. Just two frames later, while racing to the backstop to retrieve a passed ball, his foot would plant awkwardly, his knee would buckle, and his season would come to a premature end.

With the Reds scoring again in the bottom of the 11th, trimming the margin back to one and putting the tying run in scoring position, Ramos’ second blast became the difference in the game.

The dramatic Saturday affair also highlighted one of the reasons the Nationals are so good in these types of games. With all the momentum against them, Craig Stammen – arguably the fourth or fifth option in Davey Johnson’s bullpen – came on to deliver two huge innings of relief. He fanned four, including a flailing Jay Bruce to end the game, mixing a nasty, darting two-seamer with his trademark slider.

All of it, the clutch hitting, the big performance from deep in the bullpen, can mean only one thing. The Cardiac Nats are back.

A Healthy Start

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So far, so good in 2013. Washington is off to a 3-0 start for the first time in five seasons and stands alone atop the NL East. And before you go belittling the fact that the only team they’ve beaten so far is the Marlins, think back for a moment to the beginning of last year.

The Nationals also got off to a good start in 2012, but they were unable to fully put away any of their early season opponents, setting themselves up to sweep a series 10 times before finally sealing the deal. Of course, considering the litany of injuries the team weathered, particularly through the season’s first half, it was impressive that the Nationals were ever in a position to be able to sweep anyone in the first place.

Wilson Ramos is one of many Nats now healthy after missing significant time last year.

Wilson Ramos is one of many Nats now healthy after missing significant time last year.

Just look back at the roster in the beginning of the 2012 season. Mark DeRosa was the Opening Day left fielder. Brad Lidge was the closer. Bryce Harper was still in Syracuse. Michael Morse and Drew Storen did not come back to Washington until mid-season, while watching Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman all hit the disabled list before their return.

The story has been much different so far this year (knock on wood). The Opening Day lineup most fans envisioned when they saw the club for the first time this year at NatsFest was the actual Opening Day lineup on the field in D.C. on April 1. With the young and untested Marlins first up on the schedule, a sweep was almost expected, as unfair as that may be.

And yet, the Nats lived up to that expectation. At the end of four days of play, they are the lone remaining undefeated team in Major League Baseball.

Of course, the season is long, and will no doubt take its twists and turns, with players missing time here and there for the various bumps and bruises that come with the territory of a 162-game slate. The jokes about 162-0 will soon be forgotten, whenever the team drops its first contest of the year.

Washington encounters its first true test tonight, facing off with the defending National League Central Champion Reds in Cincinnati. With a lineup of mashers, especially from the left side, it seems unlikely that the Nationals will be able to count on allowing only a single earned run over three games in this series. It will be a tough first assignment for Dan Haren, but one that he no doubt welcomes as he – and the Nats – hit the road healthy here at the outset of the season.

Recovery Act

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Opening Day brought Nationals fans plenty of early-season excitement, from Bryce Harper’s power display, to Stephen Strasburg’s quiet dominance, culminating in Rafael Soriano’s closing introduction.

Each of those performances were thrilling in their own way, but going back to the beginning of Spring Training, none were as unexpected and inspiring as Wilson Ramos earning the Opening Day start behind the plate.

Quietly, Wilson Ramos's return was perhaps the most impressive story on Opening Day.

Quietly, Wilson Ramos’s return was perhaps the most impressive story on Opening Day.

When pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Florida on February 11, Ramos was just easing his way into action after recovering from a right knee injury suffered last May in Cincinnati. The damage required two surgeries, with the repair to his anterior cruciate ligament not taking place until July 18 – leaving just seven months until the start of camp.

With such a brief amount of recovery and rehabilitation time, the common question was not whether Ramos would able to start on April 1 against the Miami Marlins, but if he had progressed enough to land on the Major League roster or instead would begin the year on the disabled list.

Slowly but surely, Ramos began erasing doubts. The 25-year-old Venezuelan caught his first bullpen session on February 14, then participated in sliding drills on March 2. He made his first in-game catching appearance March 5 during a Spring Training contest against the Houston Astros, then caught a full game for the first time on March 22 – just 10 days before Opening Day.

His breakthrough occurred with five days to go. In a March 27 split-squad game against the Atlanta Braves, Ramos belted two mammoth home runs, driving home four runs in the 11-2 victory. No longer saddled with concerns about his knee, Ramos was able to cut loose with his swing, displaying the power that made him one of baseball’s top hitting catchers during the 2011 season. He was almost all the way back.

Then, at 1:09 p.m. on Monday, it became official. Given a “carrot for hard work” by manager Davey Johnson, Ramos found himself catching Strasburg’s gem and batting eighth in Johnson’s lineup. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance, then singled sharply through the hole on the left side of the infield in his second. He masterfully blocked balls in the dirt. He caught a laser of a throw from Harper in the seventh inning, then fired to first base, trapping Placido Polanco in a rundown. Eventually, he tagged out Giancarlo Stanton trying to score to complete the rare 7-2-3-4-2 double play, helping Strasburg out of his only jam of the afternoon.

Ramos will rest every other day to start the season, sharing time with Kurt Suzuki and continuing to build up strength. But now, unlike the beginning of spring, the common question is not whether or not Ramos will play, but what he might be able to accomplish now that he’s back behind the plate.

Healthy Signs

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The Nationals did not have many questions entering camp this year. They have even fewer as they enter their final game of the Grapefruit League season, after which they will fly north to The District to begin the season ahead. With much of the 25-man roster presumed to be in place before the club even arrived in Viera, there were two major points of concern upon which most of the focus lay all spring: Wilson Ramos’s knee and Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder.

Both were coming off of offseason surgery, but both have steadily progressed through spring. If there were any lingering doubts left in the final 24 hours of their stay in Florida, each put them to bed Wednesday afternoon. Ramos blasted a pair of home runs and Zimmerman crushed three of Washington’s six total long balls in an 11-2 demolition of the division-rival Braves.

Pain free and catching full games again, Wilson Ramos can focus fully on his swing.

Pain free and catching full games again, Wilson Ramos can focus fully on his swing.

Ramos went the other way to right-center for his first roundtripper in the third inning. He followed that up with a mammoth blast to left in the fourth, off the top of the berm at Space Coast Stadium, just at the foot of the electronic scoreboard. They were the catcher’s first two home runs of the spring, but they came at a time when he is finally pain free and able to put all of the focus on his knee behind him.

“In the beginning of spring, I wasn’t working on my swing at all,” explained the backstop. “Three days ago, I finally started working on it.”

The results have paid off immediately.

Zimmerman, meanwhile, rounded into form just as expected. It’s been said repeatedly by manager Davey Johnson that the Nationals third baseman needs exactly 50 at-bats – no more, no less – to get ready for the season. Zimmerman entered the game sitting on 48 for the spring and struck out in his first trip. He then blasted home runs in spring at-bats numbers 50, 51 and 52, sandwiching a couple of moonshots to left around an opposite-field shot over a four-inning span.

With the luxury of gradually easing his way back into playing shape, knowing his skipper had a firm grasp on his projected starting lineup, Zimmerman looks comfortable and refreshed as the team begins packing for the season ahead.

“We’ve pretty much known all spring who our team is,” he said, referencing the unusually high number of returning players entrenched on the roster. “We just used this time to get to doing what we did last year.”

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Excitement in the Air

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Hello everyone.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that I don’t have to remind you that Opening Day is less than a week away. I’m pumped up for the season to get started, and I know all of you Nats fans are also. During my nearly month-long stay in Viera, I spoke with hundreds of our fans. The common theme down there was unbridled enthusiasm.

Now I am back here in D.C. and the messaging is identical.

Is this is the most anticipated season in D.C. sports history? While this is not for me to say, I have to think it is at the very least on a short list.

  • Friday’s 2:05 p.m. exhibition game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park will feature a Jordan Zimmermann-Andy Pettitte pitching matchup. And here’s hoping that future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter’s ankle allows him to play, not only Friday, but all season.
  • Interesting to hear that Davey plans to really split time behind the plate between Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki. Both are wildly popular in the clubhouse and among the pitching staffs. I think Davey’s direction here tells us that he is quite confident in Wilson’s knee and overall fitness.
  • Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina represent perhaps the finest bench in MLB. I know that Davey views all four as talents capable of starting. And this does not include the backup catcher, Ramos or Suzuki.
  • If you have not picked up on this yet, … Micah Owings can really HIT. I really enjoyed getting to know Micah during spring training.
  • Gazing at the schedule, it is still strange to see that we’ll be hosting the Chicago White Sox for three games from April 9-11. I keep reminding myself that this new day and age of interleague play will take some getting used to. It will also be fun to see the Detroit Tigers visit D.C. for a two-game set, May 7-8.
  • More than a few fans mentioned they are pumped to see William Howard Taft (Bill) and Teddy interact. This historically fiery relationship is one to keep an eye on all summer. I understand there has been a lot of trash talking already between the two already. Best of luck to Bill on his upcoming racing debut.
  • I’d be remiss if I did not thank and wish Kristina Akra, formerly of MASN, all the best on her new career path. For those that do not know, Kristina recently accepted a new job with the MLB Network. She will thrive there, but at the same time, her warm smile and enthusiasm will be missed here with the ballclub.
  • Sports Illustrated, one of the preeminent publications in our industry, came out today with their prediction of the Nationals as World Series favorites. While I’m thrilled about their optimism, as well as that of all others (like ESPN The Magazine) who have tabbed us to be successful this year, I know there is much work to be done before we get to any of that. So I’ll just echo Davey’s remarks today: “It’s better than being picked to come in last!”

See you all on Friday…

Welcome Back, Wilson

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Most Spring Training camps are full of stories of roster battles, of a number of players competing for a lone spot among the 25 that will begin Opening Day in the big league uniform. The Nationals have been one of those clubs in the past, but sit in Viera this year with all but one or two of those roster spots decided. As such, the most compelling stories are those of the comeback variety, those like the story of Wilson Ramos, which, after a couple years of setbacks, had a positive chapter written over the weekend.

After enduring a terrifying ordeal in the offseason prior to 2012, Ramos was excited to move on with a breakout performance on the field last year. That hope was dashed when retrieving a ball behind the plate early last May, as his foot snagged in the wet Cincinnati grass but his knee followed his body’s momentum, tearing ligaments and ending his season. On Sunday, after months of rehab, of grinding, hard work, he finally stepped into a batter’s box in a game for the first time.

“I was a little bit nervous,” Ramos admitted. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a pitch from the mound.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

One could forgive Ramos for being a little over-anxious in his first at-bat, entering as the DH in the seventh inning. He rolled a ball over to third base, testing his knee in action for the first time as he ran to first base. That seemed like it might be his only chance of the afternoon, but as the score leveled at 6-6, the Nationals batted again in the bottom of the ninth, with Ramos leading off. He battled through a tough at-bat, fighting out of an early hole and fouling off pitches, eventually forcing a full count. Then he blasted a high fastball to the right-center field gap, deep into the wind and almost gone to one of the deepest parts of Space Coast Stadium. He pulled in at second base with a double and a rousing round of applause from the home crowd.

Pulled for pinch-runner Sandy Leon, Ramos’ contribution would lead to the victory, as the Nationals would walk off with a 7-6 victory two batters later on Zach Walters’ RBI-single through the drawn-in infield. For Ramos, it was the first step back to doing what he loves.

“That’s a big step for me today,” he said. “Now I’m very excited and I want to be behind the plate.”

He got that chance Tuesday against the Astros, where he caught the first three innings of game action for the first time since last season.

Here’s a complete list of the Nationals Spring Training results to date.

Overall Record: 4-3-2

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Seventh Heaven

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Well, I am on the ground for my seventh spring in Viera, where last week’s cold snap is now a distant memory and sunny and 70+ is the norm. Welcome to Spring Training 2013!

This is the place to be if you are a Nationals fan. I hope that over the next few weeks, I can share some of the sights, sounds and vibe from our camp. If I had to sum up Camp Davey 2013, it would be “professional, but very comfortable.”

And this is the place to be if you are a member of the baseball media. In speaking to our Media Relations folks, they assure me that this team is now officially on the radar. There is not a national baseball writer worth his salt that won’t find our club at some point this spring. MLB Network, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and Fox are all writing about us, not to mention the increased coverage from nationals.com, the Washington Post and The Washington Times. They’ll all find their way to Space Coast Stadium, perhaps even for multiple visits. This has never been the case, even with gradually rising expectations entering last season.

Both media coverage and attendance are up at Spring Training this year.

Both media coverage and attendance are up at Spring Training this year.

By the way…how about Bryce Harper’s Sports Illustrated cover story last week!?

So, enjoy the extra coverage. Hopefully it helps all of our fans up north escape the cold winter mentally, even if only for a few minutes every day. Thankfully, the exhibition game against the Yankees on Friday, March 29 at Nationals Park and Opening Day on April 1 are just around the corner.

As everyone knows, this is Davey Johnson’s final camp at the helm. He set quite a tone this offseason with his declaration of “World Series or bust.” Has anyone ever carried such overt confidence with the ease that Davey does? That is Davey in a nutshell: he’s unique. How about last year? Remember when he said (paraphrasing) “they should fire me if we don’t make the playoffs?” He and Mike Rizzo obviously knew something about that club earlier than everyone else. It was quite a season.

- Congratulations to Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez, who will represent us on Team USA, and Roger Bernadina who will represent the Netherlands in next month’s World Baseball Classic. What a fantastic honor for them and for our ballclub. Team USA’s pitching staff will feature two of our finest. I suppose this is when nationalism meets NATITUDE?

- Best of luck to our friend Joe Torre, who will manage Team USA in the WBC. From my seat, the WBC gets bigger and better every go around.

Wilson Ramos is healthy and back in camp this spring.

Wilson Ramos is healthy and back in camp this spring.

- My favorite sight of the young spring was Wilson Ramos in a crouch, catching multiple bullpens. Wilson’s spirits are so much higher right now than they were last summer. And for good reason. He is currently in a good place both mentally and physically.

- Speaking of catchers, I was talking to seven-time Gold Glover Bob Boone and he swears that he has never seen a catching corps with as much depth as ours this spring. Our fourth and fifth catchers will be better than some club’s backup catchers when Opening Day hits. Perhaps even a few front-line backstops. And consider, we have traded away a pair of highly thought of catchers in the last 15 months or so in Derek Norris and David Freitas.

- We are still waiting for his Grapefruit League debut, but Dan Haren has lived up to his billing so far. Davey told me that Dan’s initial bullpens were something to behold. He was painting the corners. It will be a shock if he walks more than two batters in any game.

- Lots of media talk about how 23 of the 25 spots on the Opening Day roster are accounted for. I am not sure this is the case, but let’s not forget that injuries hit and hinder baseball more than any other sport. I just looked this up, but last year’s NL East champs used 43 players. We won the division by 4.0 games (over the Braves) and claimed the best record in baseball by 1.0 game (over the Reds). Think we win the NL East without the contributions of Bryce Harper, Tyler Moore, Sandy Leon, Jhonatan Solano or Christian Garcia? It would have been extremely difficult, considering none of the aforementioned players were on the Opening Day roster.

- Who is going to make lasting first impressions this year? Anthony Rendon sure is off to a hot start. Matt Skole, Nathan Karns and Eury Perez look great also. It is early, but we have a lot of great young talent around here.

Until we blog again…

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