Working toward full health, Ramos eyes starting job

Catcher's final hurdle this spring is working nine innings, but already feels strong

Working toward full health, Ramos eyes starting job

VIERA, Fla. -- For the Nationals, the starting lineup is set for Opening Day, except for behind the plate. Manager Davey Johnson recently declined to announce who would be the starting catcher between Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki.

"I'm going to be smart whichever way I go," Johnson said. "I'm not concerned with that. It's the least of my worries."

Ramos, 25, made it known recently that he would like to get his job back in 2013.

"I'm trying to get the starting position like last year. I fought for the spot last year, and I want to do it this year," Ramos said. "I know I came back from my surgery. But I feel strong, I feel good."

After having major surgery on his right knee last summer, it was hard to see Ramos back in the starting lineup in 2013. When Spring Training started, Ramos was not allowed to play in a game until he proved to a team doctor that he could run the bases and slide. And that didn't happen until March 2, a day before he played his first game against the Cardinals.

Since then, Ramos has done almost everything to show that he should be the starting catcher. Nationals pitchers are comfortable when Ramos is behind the plate, and Ramos looks like he is in midseason form in the batter's box. Entering Wednesday's action against the Marlins, Ramos is 8-for-18 (.444).

"I think he looks great," said Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr, a former Major League catcher. "He looks strong, he is moving around well. That was the one thing we were watching. He is moving laterally real well; he is blocking the ball. We are going to stretch him out more and more. He says, 'I feel strong. Let's go, let's go.' He wants it. I don't think he is lying to us."

Ramos' last hurdle is to show that he can play nine innings. Johnson announced that would happen sometime this week.

"After that, I need to see how my knee feels. At this point, it feels good," Ramos said. "I think I will be ready to go."

After tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on May 12 against the Reds, Ramos acknowledged that his spirits were down, often crying after he realized that he would miss the rest of regular season and the postseason.

But his family and friends were there to boost his spirits. Ramos said he is mentally strong because of them. For example, his mother, Maria Campos, came to Washington, D.C., from Venezuela and told Ramos, "You have to talk to God. You are a big man, you are strong. You need to come back. Go and do everything the doctor said."

Ramos received even bigger boosts from his younger siblings, Davey and Natanael, who revealed to their older brother that he was their hero for what he accomplished in the big leagues.

"I'm very proud of my family. They talked a lot with me," Ramos said. "They gave me a reason to work hard and come back strong. That was the best moment, when you feel you need more of your family. They were here when I needed them. ... Now, I'm here, healthy and strong."

Ramos feels he is in the best shape since he entered the big leagues. He lost weight, learning after the knee surgery that he needed to take better care of his body. Sometimes he feels that had he been in better shape, he would not have gone under the knife.

"I'm working a lot with my legs. Before [I was injured], I wasn't working too much with my legs or my upper body," Ramos said. "Now I'm 100 percent with my leg. My leg feels strong. I'm excited for that. After my surgery, I learned about [staying in shape], because we have to work every day, every part of my body. We need to work on everything."

One of Ramos' goals is to become a better game-caller. On Monday, the catcher teamed with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, with Zimmermann pitching six scoreless innings against the Tigers at Space Coast Stadium.

"He is a big target and [has] soft hands back there," Zimmermann said about Ramos. "... He is definitely good back there, and we were on the same page all day. He called a pretty good game. He feels good from what I know. He got a couple of hits and he is like a wall back there. He blocks everything."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.