Nationals' Wilson Ramos emotional in return behind the plate

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Catcher tears up a bit after rough 17 months

Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos blinked away the tears as he warmed up teammate Stephen Strasburg in the bullpen for Monday's Opening Day victory over the Miami Marlins.

You could hardly blame him. Ramos has been through so much over the last 17 months that this moment, with a capacity crowd on hand at Nationals Park, crisp spring weather and a game that finally mattered, took on special meaning for him.

Ramos, Washington's starting catcher at the start of last season, tore the ACL and the meniscus in his right knee May 12 when he caught a spike in the dirt trying to block a pitch during a game against the Cincinnati Reds. That ended his season after just 25 games and 83 at-bats. He endured two separate surgeries over the summer and didn't quite feel part of last year's National League East championship squad. It took hours and hours of rehabilitation to get back to this point, but at age 25 his future is still bright. So why the emotion?

"Because I feel like today was my first game in the big league," Ramos said. "I was too much excited. I have a lot of work to do this year, and I have to keep my knee safe."

Overshadowed by monster games from teammates Strasburg and Bryce Harper, Ramos had a nice day at the plate himself while batting eighth. He walked in the third inning and eventually was stranded on third base. He singled in the fifth inning and again was left on third with two outs. Ramos batted 1-for-2.

Part of keeping that repaired knee sound will mean sharing catching duties with veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki. Ramos received the Opening Day assignment, but playing every day probably isn't in the cards this season.

But he's just thankful to be back after his injury and, of course, the harrowing ordeal he endured when he was kidnapped in his native Venezuela in November 2011. It took a manhunt to bring Ramos home safe, and he has never forgotten how lucky he is to be alive, let alone playing baseball again. Compared to that, the injury was just a temporary setback.

Behind the plate, he and Strasburg were on the same page all afternoon against Miami. The Marlins gave Strasburg trouble late last summer by sitting on his fastball. Knowing that, he and Ramos tried breaking pitches earlier in the count to keep their hitters off balance. Strasburg tossed seven scoreless innings, and only one batter reached even second base.

"[Ramos] is a big target. Receives really well," Strasburg said. "Once we get on the same page, it's just like auto-pilot. Don't go out there and overanalyze it or overthink. Just throw the pitch."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner