LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When Wilson Ramos arrived at spring training, he said he felt his surgically repaired right knee was about 80 percent healthy. He was still afraid of what might happen when he blocked balls and his knee still tired easily when he caught a bullpen session.
Just more than two weeks later, the Washington Nationals catcher happily reports that he feels the health of his knee is now up to 95 percent. He is hitting, catching, blocking and doing almost every drill the Nationals' coaches throw at him. A few days ago he blocked 35 balls during a drill and he felt great. His fear over what would happen when he put his right knee in the ground had dissipated.
Now there is just one remaining hurdle: sliding.
The Nationals' doctors won't clear Ramos to play in games, even as a designated hitter, until he is cleared to slide. Ramos has always tucked his right knee under his left leg when he slides into bases. Now the plan is to try to teach him to tuck his left leg instead.
"It's more mental," Ramos said. "I was scared to block, but after blocking I felt great. Now I'm scared for sliding."
Ramos' implication was that he expects that fear to fade away as well. But manager Davey Johnson said trainers told him Ramos may not be cleared to slide until March 6, when Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih returns to Viera.
Ramos recently had his knees measured, in order to get an idea of how much of his muscle has come back since atrophying during inactivity. While his left knee is still visibly larger than the right, Ramos said the measurements weren't too far apart, another good sign for his progress. Otherwise, Ramos feels he could be ready to play in games soon.
"I've said he's game ready for the last week, but what do I know," Johnson said. "There's no major hurry as far as I'm concerned, except that ... I wanted to get him swinging the bat a little bit."
Ramos has been pleased with his work in the batting cage — a sentiment echoed by hitting coach Rick Eckstein — and feels more power in his swing from the upper-body work he did during rehab. From July to December, Ramos focused on working out his upper body, the first time in his life he'd ever done it more than twice per week. He's noticed his bat feels a little lighter.
Ramos wants to play now, but he knows it's best for him to wait. The Nationals think they will be able to get him into games as a full participant by mid-March, and they hope to use him as a DH earlier. They still fully expect him ready to be on the Opening Day roster.
When Ramos does stand behind the plate — spring training game or not — he knows it will be a special moment.
"I will be very happy to be in those white lines," he said. "I'm waiting for that moment. I will be 100 percent happy for that."
First-pitch strikes please Detwiler
Facing an Atlanta Braves lineup that looked very much like one the Nationals will see during the season, with six regulars in it, Ross Detwiler was pleased with his 2 2/3 innings of work in his first outing of the spring. The Nationals lost to the Braves 9-5 after waiting out an hour rain delay.
Detwiler focused on throwing first-pitch strikes and mixing in his offspeed stuff, and was able to do both with 8 of 14 first pitches for strikes and eight offspeed pitches.
He will make one more start with the Nationals before leaving for Team USA and the World Baseball Classic on March 4 and he felt Tuesday's start helped put him in position to be ready for that.
"You saw the lineup they put out there today," Detwiler said. "I could've been embarrassed pretty easily. I think this helped me out a lot, seeing a lot of their top guys. It makes you focus on keeping the ball down because every one of them could hit the ball a mile."
Around the horn
Bryce Harper was 3 for 3 Tuesday, is 6 for 8 on the spring and talked his way into Wednesday's lineup. ... Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth are in the Nationals' lineup for Wednesday's home game, the first game action of the spring for each. Chad Tracy is also expected back in the lineup Wednesday. ... Micah Owings will need a few more days to rest a little tightness in his left wrist, which he said began "barking" after Saturday's game. Owings played all nine innings in the Nationals' opener.
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