NEW YORK -- Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos underwent surgery to repair the hamate bone in his left wrist on Wednesday morning and will be sidelined from 4-5 weeks.
So one day into the season, Washington is suddenly without its starting catcher and the man tabbed to be the cleanup hitter, at least early in the season. It was another blow to a player who appeared in just 25 games in 2012 after sustaining a torn ACL in his right knee and 78 games in 2013 when lingering hamstring issues limited him all season.
"[Ramos] worked really hard in spring, he worked really hard in winter. Even outside of baseball it's been rough on him" Nats manager Matt Williams said. "So I feel for him. When he does play and is healthy, it's really, really good. Really good."
Washington now must adjust. On Wednesday when its series with the New York Mets resumed, Williams had first baseman Adam LaRoche in the cleanup spot. LaRoche struggled last season and had been dropped in the order for a reason. But he fits in between right-handed batters Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, who is now batting fifth.
That pushes Bryce Harper to sixth, a spot few expected him to hit this season. Williams' reasoning was to take pressure off his youngster. There's also no guarantee it's a long-term solution with Ramos out of the lineup. But, for now, it makes sense to the coaching staff to bat Harper there, where he can use his legs to be aggressive on the base paths more than he could batting in front of those power hitters.
"Most of all, I want [Harper] to be free and play and not have those boundaries on him," Williams said. "[Wednesday's] lineup is a little different than Opening Day where he hit fifth behind those two guys, but we'll probably see that one a lot because he's gonna have the opportunity to drive in big runs for us."
Ramos originally hurt his left wrist during spring training in a March 24 game in Jupiter, Fla. against the Miami Marlins, bench coach Randy Knorr said in a Tuesday radio interview with radio station 106.7 – The Fan. Williams agreed with that conclusion and said he didn't think a foul tip off the glove hand earlier in Monday's game was related to the injury issue.
Ramos winced in obvious pain after a swing in his final at bat in Monday's 9-7 Opening Day win over the New York, something Knorr and hitting instructor Rick Schu noticed right away. Mets. He was pulled from the game moments later after watching a fastball speed past him. Knorr noted that Ramos almost never lets those pitches go by without a hack.
The Nats recalled Double-A catcher Sandy Leon from Harrisburg and he will serve as the backup to Jose Lobaton, acquired from Tampa Bay via trade during spring training.
Ramos was Washington's Opening Day cleanup hitter. Lobaton is an exceptional pitch framer and was a starter for Tampa Bay the majority of last season. He is also a league-average hitter. Leon is also regarded as a fine defensive catcher whose bat still needs some work. But he's unlikely to play more than once or twice a week until Ramos returns from the disabled list. Lobaton, for his part, is relishing the opportunity.
"I'm ready every day, doesn't matter what happened," Lobaton said after Monday's game. "If I'm playing, I'm ready. If no, I know something can happen. I don't want to see somebody get hurt – but pinch hitter, pinch runner, I'm ready for that. When that happens, I'll be there."
Players often return to the field in short order after hamate bone surgery, but power, a big part of Ramos' appeal as a hitter, can often sapped for months. Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond are three other Nats players who have undergone hamate bone surgery during their careers, but each believes the loss of power over the short term is overrated.
"There's nothing you can do about it. It happens from time to time," Williams said. "Guys have had it a lot. We certainly didn't want it to happen. But it is what it is and we have to move forward. He'll be back soon enough."
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