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Nationals have options behind the plate

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Photo - Alex Brandon/AP
Catcher Kurt Suzuki hit .267 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 146 at-bats after the Nationals acquired him in early August.
Alex Brandon/AP Catcher Kurt Suzuki hit .267 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 146 at-bats after the Nationals acquired him in early August.
Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Just minutes after their season came to a shocking end against the St. Louis Cardinals last Friday in a National League Division Series, Nationals catchers Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos shook hands in the clubhouse and had a brief conversation. It is never too early to start planning for next season.

By the end of the year, Suzuki had become Washington's clear No. ?1 catcher. That was the plan when the team acquired him in a post-deadline trade with the Oakland A's on Aug. 3. The man whose job he took, Jesus Flores, is unlikely to be back with the club in 2013. It is Ramos whom Suzuki will have to deal with in spring training.

Ramos tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee during a May 12 game against the Cincinnati Reds while running to field a passed ball. Just like that the Nats were without their top catcher, a 25-year-old they expect to man that position for several years. At the time Ramos was batting .265 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 25 games. His on-base percentage was a career-best .354, and his OPS was .752.

Considering Washington received virtually nothing offensively from a quartet of catchers -- including Flores -- until Suzuki got hot in September, the addition of Ramos alone should be a boost to the offense. Flores, Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Carlos Maldonado combined for a .222 batting average, .270 on-base average, .311 slugging percentage and a .581 OPS in 351 at-bats. That was 59 percent of the total at-bats taken by Nats' catchers in 2012.

"We're going to have two pretty darn good catchers when Ramos gets healthy in the beginning of spring training," general manager Mike Rizzo said after making the trade for Suzuki. "And we'll have a veteran presence behind a good young player."

Ramos already holds the record for home runs in a season by a catcher (15) since the team moved to Washington in 2005. Only 26 catchers, including Suzuki, had even 300 plate appearances in 2012, and Ramos' 2011 OPS (.779) would have ranked 13th on that list this season. Suzuki was 25th (.605), though he hit better once he was traded to the Nats (.725).

The hope is Washington will have one of the sport's top catching combinations in 2013. Ramos is expected to be ready sometime during spring training. He had surgery June 1 on his meniscus but not until July 18 on his ACL. That would put only about seven months between his second surgery and when the Nats report to Viera, Fla., for camp, so Suzuki's presence should allow Ramos extra time, if needed.

"Haven't looked that far ahead yet," Suzuki said when asked after the season-ending loss to look ahead to next year. "I had a great time here. I appreciated all the opportunities I got from Rizzo, the front office and the coaching staff for believing in me. I just wish I could have done more."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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