The Washington Times - May 3, 2011, 01:41PM

Wilson Ramos said Monday night that when he came into the clubhouse that afternoon and saw his name slotted into the cleanup spot in the lineup, he was excited. 

It’s a spot the 23-year-old catcher is accustomed to from his time in the Venezuelan Winter League and a position he feels not only capable of producing from but where the type of hitter he is expected to become should thrive.

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“I’m comfortable with that,” Ramos said. “I was very happy (to see I was hitting cleanup). I know I’m going to get a good opportunity.”

Ramos hitting cleanup on Monday night was more a product of first baseman Adam LaRoche getting the day off. LaRoche, who’s been dealing with a slight tear in the labrum of his throwing shoulder since spring training – and likely will be dealing with it throughout the entire season – has struggled to find his stroke through the season’s first 28 games.

But while that particular instance may have been a product of circumstance, it may not be long before the rookie is considered for the role on a regular basis — and another example of how fortunate the Nationals were to have acquired Ramos to add to their arsenal with Ivan Rodriguez.

Through the season’s first month-plus, Ramos has been the only Nationals’ hitter who hasn’t gone through a prolonged struggle, his .357 average and .422 on-base percentage evidence of that. In fact, there are only five games that Ramos has started this season where he’s gone hitless.

Even Monday night, when discussing how strong he’s feeling at the plate, Ramos pointed to a 10 at-bat stretch where he went hitless. The stretch amounted to two of those five hitless games this season for the catcher who otherwise has yet to truly slump.

One thing that cannot be overstated is the effect that Rodriguez is having — and could have — on Ramos as he continues to develop. Monday night, when the final out of the Nationals shutout victory over the Giants had been made, Rodriguez was the first guy out of the Nationals dugout, bounding over to his young counterpart to give him a hearty embrace for a job well done.

Ramos, in addition to guiding Tom Gorzelanny through eight innings of three-hit baseball, jumpstarted the Nationals offense by breaking up Madison Bumgarner’s perfect game leading off the fifth and reaching base on an error to start at two-out rally (and eventually score the winning run) for the Nationals in the seventh.

From the first time I threw to him, I’ve known he was a good catcher,” Gorzelanny said Monday night. “He really cares and he really works on his catching more than hitting – or as much as hitting. I feel very comfortable throwing to him. Whatever he puts down, I feel comfortable throwing.”

It was the second game in a row where the Nationals’ catcher had a clear and decisive impact on a victory. The Nationals may have several areas that need improvement before they’re contending for a playoff spot but right now, they’re incredibly fortunate at the catching position.

That’s become a common refrain in the Nationals clubhouse. As their pitchers continue to carry the ballclub, Ramos and Rodriguez are getting praised heaped on them from all directions, Ramos for his prowess both at the plate as well as his catching acumen and Rodriguez for his obvious knowledge and ability — but also seemingly endless energy.

With two catchers on such opposite ends of the career spectrum, it’s an interesting juxtaposition to witness but one that’s having a clear impact on the team.

“I feel lucky when I get to throw to Pudge,” Nationals reliever Drew Storen said Sunday afternoon. “There’s not a lot of thinking that goes into it when I’m throwing to him – and Ramos too.

“People ask me, ‘Hey, what’s Pudge like?’ and the guy treats the game like it’s his first year and that’s unbelievable. He comes in with a great attitude every day, he’s excited to be here, and I feed off that. This guy’s been doing this for 20 years or something like that, A., the ability to be able to still catch and play at the level that he does is amazing but his attitude is the most amazing part of all of it.

“He’s just a quality teammate. He doesn’t need to be with everything that he’s done, but he’s a great teammate and he’s helped me a lot in learning the game. If you learn the game from his perspective and see the pitchers that he’s seen – because I’m nothing compared to the pitchers that he’s seen – it’s exactly what’s going to make me successful.”