Early Sunday afternoon, as many of his teammates were still filing into the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse for their evening series finale with the Philadelphia Phillies, Kurt Suzuki stood on the right field line and went through a workout. It was the seventh consecutive day Suzuki was not in the Nationals’ lineup.
It was the 11th time in the Nationals’ last 13 games that they had Wilson Ramos behind the plate.
You won’t get an argument out of the 26-year-old catcher, who celebrated a birthday on Saturday.
“I feel good right now,” Ramos said Sunday, despite dealing with a bit of a head cold.
“I like when I play like that, (everyday). I don’t like to stay on the bench so, after I missed almost the whole season last year, I’m very happy with my playing time right now.”
The shift from the Nationals using Suzuki and Ramos somewhat equally has happened swiftly.
With Ramos missing 58 of the Nationals first 84 games with a twice-strained left hamstring, the Nationals had to alter their plans to ease Ramos back into a full workload after his knee surgery. Suzuki carried the Nationals’ load behind the plate. And that was after he started 41 games in the final two months of the Nationals’ 2012 season.
But given that manager Davey Johnson often prefers to speak through playing time, it is obvious the way the Nationals now view the catching situation: Ramos is the Nationals’ starter, and Suzuki has become much more of a traditional backup.
Since Ramos came off the disabled list on July 4, he has started 25 of the Nationals’ 33 games. With the month of August now 11 days old, Suzuki has appeared in just one game since the month began.
For a while, even when Ramos returned healthy, Suzuki would still catch right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and left-hander Gio Gonzalez. The last time through the rotation, he did not.
“He wants to play,” Johnson said of Ramos last week. “He wants to play and he deserves to play. He was mad at me that he didn’t play a day game after a night game (last weekend).”
For Ramos, who lost most of his 2012 season to an ACL and meniscus tears in his right knee and had multiple starts and stops this year with his hamstring, the playing time is not a problem, And he continues to do extra work to safeguard his legs from further injury.
The Nationals have had multiple offdays the last few weeks, with two off days in a four-day span two weeks ago, another this past week and another coming up on Monday. Ramos said he uses those days to rest, and they’re important for him to do so, but he’d rather do that than take games off instead.
“For me, I don’t need a day off right now,” he said. “After I missed so much time getting hurt, for me, right now, I want to stay in the lineup. I feel good. I don’t need a day off.
“I feel great at the plate, and I feel good behind there, too. I like that. I want to keep playing. I’m happy to be in the lineup almost everyday.”
On a team that has struggled to consistently produce on offense throughout much of the season, Ramos’ presence has been welcome. In 25 games since coming off the disabled list, Ramos is hitting .308 with a .330 on-base percentage and a .516 slugging percentage.
In that span, he has nine multi-hit games and has drive in at least one run in 10 games. He also has five home runs.
“Since I’ve been here with him, he’s been a horse behind the dish and he’s swung the bat well,” Johnson said.
As for Suzuki, the lack of playing time has put him in a similar position to the one he was in with the Oakland Athletics last season, before an August trade to Washington returned him to a starting role.
While it’s likely been difficult for him to adjust to such scarce opportunity, after starting 63 times in the first three months of the season, his usually positive, bubbly attitude has rarely changed, and he’s making sure he’ll be ready when his name is called. After his workout was finished on the field Sunday afternoon, Suzuki made his way into the batting cage to keep working.