CINCINNATI — Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos will require surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, a diagnosis that will cost him most, if not all, of the rest of the 2012 season. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Ramos will be “out for most of the year.”
The severity of Ramos’ injury, suffered in the seventh inning Saturday night, is not fully known at this point. Ramos will meet with Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih when the team returns home and a date for surgery will be set.
It is a crushing blow for both the Nationals and Ramos, the 24-year-old burgeoning catching star who has endured so much since the end of his superb rookie season. Ramos survived a harrowing kidnapping this winter in Venezuela and arrived at spring training grateful to return to baseball and his promising career.
“It hasn’t been a very good year for him,” Johnson said. “I told him ‘Man, if you didn’t have bad luck you’d have no luck at all.”
Now the Nationals will be forced to move on without yet another key piece of their team, the man they envisioned as their backstop for “the next 10 years,” general manager Mike Rizzo has said.
Already hit with the long-term losses of Michael Morse and Jayson Werth, Ramos becomes the ninth player the team has placed on the disabled list this season and the seventh of nine projected starting position players to miss time with an injury. Closer Drew Storen, reliever Brad Lidge and starter Chien-Ming Wang are all also still out with injuries.
The average projected recovery time from ACL surgery is 6-9 months but it is an injury with a lot of variables, including the severity, which won’t be known until the operation.
“We’ve just got to, I don’t know, start eating bananas or something,” Johnson said, his tone solemn. “Change our luck. We’ve had more of our fair share of key players going down.”
Jesus Flores will assume the starting catching responsibilities in Ramos’ absence, a return for Flores to a position he held in 2009 before a foul tip hit his right shoulder and put him on his own difficult injury path.
“I’ve been in that position before,” Flores said Saturday night. “I feel ready for it and I’m going to keep helping the team win. I feel very confident I can do my job.”
The Nationals called up 23-year-old Sandy Leon from Double-A Harrisburg to serve as the team’s second catcher. Leon, a highly-touted receiver who is also from Venezuela, was named the best defensive catcher in the Carolina League in 2011 by Baseball America and is widely considered the Nationals’ best prospect at the position.
Leon spent time this spring working with Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein and Triple-A hitting coach Troy Gingrich on his swing. They tweaked something with his hands, Leon said, and he’s been off to a hot start offensively as well in Double-A. The switch hitter hit .319 with a .356 on-base percentage and .457 slugging percentage in 27 games. He hit 10 doubles, walked four times and struck out 10 times in 94 at-bats.
The Senators were playing in nearby Akron, Ohio this weekend so Leon was called just before midnight on Saturday and told to return to the field, where they gave him the good news that he’d be heading to the major leagues. Leon said he cried when they told him. Then he phoned his family in Venezuela, who also cried upon hearing the news.
“I didn’t expect it,” Leon said. “Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, that’s her gift. Very good gift. She was really happy… I called them and they were awake. I don’t know how. I said ‘Mom, I’m going to the big leagues.’ She hand the phone to my father and start crying.”
Leon, who had tears in his eyes as he spoke about his call-up, provided the silver lining to another difficult day of injury news for the Nationals. He’ll be given an opportunity now that he likely wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“I just talked to (Ramos) in the training room,” Leon said. “I feel bad for him because he’s from Venezuela and he’s my friend. It’s bad for him but it’s good for me.”
Ramos, who injured his knee fielding a passed ball in the seventh inning Saturday night, was with the team at Great American Ball Park Sunday morning but he did not feel up to speaking.