CINCINNATI — By now, the Washington Nationals are used to this.
The young season has been filled with so many positives for them as they've ascended to first place in the National League East.
So many victories. So much promise.
And one crushing injury after another.
For a team that already is playing without its slugging left fielder, its pricey right fielder and its closer, catcher Wilson Ramos lying on the field behind home plate at Great American Ball Park on Saturday night, his face contorted in agonizing pain, was perhaps the most disheartening scene of all.
Ramos will require surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, an injury that will cost him most, if not all, of the 2012 season and put the Nationals' sturdy backstop on a long path to recovery.
"We're brothers in here," said shortstop Ian Desmond as team trainers squired Ramos to the hospital for an MRI late Saturday night. "We just lost another brother."
The severity of Ramos' injury, suffered in the seventh inning, 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. But certain facts already are clear, and the most prevalent of those is that this, as Danny Espinosa said, "is horrible."
Ramos, 24, a burgeoning star, has endured much since the end of his superb rookie season. He survived a harrowing kidnapping episode this winter in Venezuela and arrived at spring training grateful to return to baseball, normalcy and his promising career. Now, he'll have to confront a grueling operation and rehabilitation process.
"It hasn't been a very good year for him," manager Davey Johnson said. "I told him 'Man, if you didn't have bad luck you'd have no luck at all.' "
And the Nationals will be forced to move on without yet another key piece of their team, this one, the player they envisioned behind the plate to steward their MLB-best pitching staff 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 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 also are still out with injuries.
The average projected recovery time from ACL surgery is six to nine months, but it is an injury with a lot of variables, including the severity, which won't be known until the operation.
Jesus Flores will become the starting catcher, 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 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 Sandy Leon, 23, from Double-A Harrisburg to serve as the second catcher. Leon, a touted receiver who also is from Venezuela, was named the best defensive catcher in the Carolina League in 2011 by Baseball America. He is widely considered the Nationals' best prospect at the position.
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.
"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."
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