Phil Wood: Nationals catch a break with Wilson Ramos' recovery

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Phil Wood

Prior to Wilson Ramos tearing his right ACL going after a passed ball last May, he had started 24 of the Nationals' 33 games behind the plate. The other nine starts were made by his backup, Jesus Flores. Ramos, who'd caught 113 games in 2011, was clearly the starter, a job he'd been projected to hang onto for the next several seasons.

The injury required some quick thinking by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. Though Flores had been projected as a long-term starter himself prior to his own injury setbacks, he'd require a backup, and the club initially looked internally for that solution. Prospects Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon filled the void until injuries forced them onto the DL as well. Finally on August 3, Rizzo acquired veteran Kurt Suzuki from the Oakland Athletics for minor league catcher David Freitas, another high-ceiling catching prospect.

The Oakland-Washington connection has proven fruitful. The Nats had previously acquired reliever Henry Rodriguez from the A's for Josh Willingham and got 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez for 4 prospects, including another young catcher, Derek Norris, as well as pitcher A.J. Cole, a prospect they hated to lose. In January, Rizzo got Cole back from the A's along with two other young arms in the three-way swap that sent Michael Morse back to Seattle.

Suzuki did a solid job for the Nationals on their stretch drive to the NL East title, batting .267 with five home runs and 25 RBI in 43 games. Conventional wisdom indicated that he'd get the bulk of starts behind the plate in 2013, inasmuch as Ramos' recovery from such a serious injury to his knee would require a lot of rehab before he'd be able to take the wear and tear of nine innings.

Ramos, however, had something else in mind. When he showed up in Viera, Fla., in February, it started to dawn on the ballclub that their once-future star catcher was ready to resume that role. He was in the best shape of his life, showing remarkable quickness behind the plate. His bat seemed unaffected by the layoff; the same rifle-like shot of the ball off the barrel was evident during batting practice.

Manager Davey Johnson took it slow with Ramos during the Grapefruit League season, but by the final week, Wilson was catching back-to-back games and quite obviously was completely recovered from his injury. The plan had evolved, from Suzuki at number one with Ramos possibly not returning to the active roster until May, to both men sharing the position.

Can that work? We'll find out soon enough, but the idea that each guy hits October having each caught 81 games seems unlikely. You can never rule out an injury, and if one has the hotter bat, the 50-50 premise will be history. Still, Ramos has re-emerged as the everyday catcher of the future, and Suzuki's value to the ballclub is basically unchanged.

Catching depth is crucial to a winning team. The Nats seem set back there for years to come.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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