The Washington Times - June 26, 2013, 06:27PM

Most of the focus on the Washington Nationals’ injury (and offensive) woes has been on outfielder Bryce Harper, and his much-anticipated return to the Nationals’ lineup — which could come next week. 

But the Nationals are also close to getting another integral bat back into their lineup as catcher Wilson Ramos finally nears a rehab assignment for his strained left hamstring.


Manager Davey Johnson said Wednesday that he is hopeful Ramos will return to the active roster by July 4.

“He’s real close,” Johnson said of Ramos, who has been down in Viera, Fla., catching bullpens, taking batting practice and doing baserunning drills for the better part of the past month. 

“We’ve got Neil Diamond coming here on the Fourth and General Martin Dempsey is also coming to sing the national anthem,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping that Mr. Ramos can make it up here by then, too.”

The Nationals have taken an ultra-conservative approach with Ramos’ rehab this time around after he re-strained his hamstring for the second time in a month on May 15.

When Ramos first strained his hamstring, in April, he missed just the minimum 15 days on the disabled list. But the recurrence meant his recovery would likely take about six weeks. That would put his return at just about the first week of July, and that’s where Johnson has him targeted currently. 

The hope is that Ramos will begin playing in games in Florida “(Thursday) or the next day,” and then he will likely join a minor league affiliate for a few rehab games, Johnson said.

While the Nationals often said throughout the spring they felt like they had two No. 1 catchers in Ramos and Kurt Suzuki, Ramos’ offense brings a bit more to the Nationals’ lineup when it comes to power.

Suzuki hit .241 in his first 26 games of the season. But since Ramos has been out with the second hamstring strain, Suzuki, who may have more line-drive outs than anyone on the Nationals’ roster, has received the lion’s share of the playing time and hit just .190 with four extra-base hits. 

Ramos’ return would not only lighten the workload being placed on Suzuki, but also give the Nationals another right-handed power threat. They’ll gladly welcome that. 

“He’s a tremendous catcher,” Johnson said. “He’s got tremendous bat potential, too. And they both handle the pitching staff real good. He’s got a little more thump in the bat. I’m looking for anything at this point.”