The Washington Times - March 3, 2013, 12:01PM

VIERA, Fla. — Wilson Ramos looked up from his pancakes and omelet breakfast Sunday morning and saw manager Davey Johnson smiling down at him. He couldn’t help it, he had to smile back.

“Hey,” Johnson said, “you got the wraps off.”

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Ramos nodded. There were no more hurdles to clear, no more tests to pass. The Washington Nationals’ catcher will get his first at-bat since May 12, 2012 on Sunday and he will start at catcher for the Nationals in Tuesday’s game against the Houston Astros.

“I told him to forget the training room staff and all the doctors. ‘You’ve just got to deal with me now, pal,’” Johnson said. 

Ramos couldn’t have asked for better news.

After a long, arduous rehab process, Ramos was cleared to try sliding on Saturday. He did it seven or eight times on the sliding pads in the outfield at Space Coast Stadium and then he checked off the final empty box on the doctors’ list of requirements before he could play in a game. 

Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih examined Ramos, and conferred with Ramos’ surgeon, Dr. Richard Steadman, in Colorado. Together, they gave him the green light.

“I’m happy,” Ramos said. “After I slid and I didn’t feel anything, it was awesome. 

“Now I feel like a ballplayer again.”

Ryan Zimmerman, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, will see his first game action on Sunday, serving as the team’s designated hitter. Once Zimmerman gets three at-bats, though, Ramos will take the fourth DH at-bat.

The Nationals have an off-day on Monday, but Tuesday Ramos will catch three innings and get another at-bat. Ramos has been told to continue doing all the things he’s worked on to this point. He will continue sliding, as well, adding it to his workload each day, and they will continue to increase his workload as the season approaches.

Ramos had considered tucking his left knee under his outstretched right leg when sliding, to protect the knee with a surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus. But he slid the way he always has on Saturday, tucking the right knee under his left, and felt no pain so he will continue doing it the way he always has.

“It’s hard to change it,” Ramos said. “I’ve never used (my left leg) to slide.”

Otherwise, as he proudly stated, Ramos is “ready to go.”

It has been just under 10 months since Ramos tore his ACL on that May night in Cincinnati and less than eight full months since he had his second surgery (this one to repair to the ACL, the first to repair the meniscus). It is a testament to how hard he worked to come back that he has passed all of the doctors’ tests already.

“He’s in great shape,” Johnson said. “He’s been taking extra work, he’s been throwing a lot, he’s been blocking a lot, he’s done everything every other guy in camp has done and I’ve seen him do it.”

During his rehab, Ramos spent a lot of time focusing on getting the rest of his body into better shape as well. He has lost weight and he’s gotten leaner, more muscular. He has felt the difference this spring —when doing catching drills as well as in batting practice. The bat feels a little lighter in his hands and he feels a little lighter on his feet. 

It has been a long year for Ramos, a long year-and-a-half, really, as he came to last spring training hoping to move on from his harrowing kidnapping in November of 2011. 

As he sat at his locker on Sunday morning, readying himself to play in a game for the first time 10 months, he was happy. Very happy. 

Asked if he was excited for his at-bat, Ramos had one answer.

“Mmmhmmm,” he said. Then he smiled, again.