- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2014

VIERA, Fla. — Every day late last season, Wilson Ramos walked into the Washington Nationals clubhouse with a huge smile on his face.

Every day, Ramos knew his name would be in the lineup as the Nats’ catcher. The only question was, at what spot in the batting order? A couple of games became a week, then two, then three. Finally, a doubleheader late in the season meant Ramos needed to take a seat. His streak of consecutive starts ended at 23, the most of any catcher in baseball in 2013.

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“It helped me a lot, to get confident, to show what I could do,” Ramos said. “I remember after 18 games they wanted me to take one off. I said no, I want to keep going. I’m ready to play.”

When the Nationals acquired then-minor-leaguer Ramos from the Twins in 2010 for relief pitcher Matt Capps, they envisioned him one day becoming a crucial part of their lineup. Now 26, Ramos goes into the 2014 season ready to be exactly that.

The 23-game streak of starts helped him mentally as much as physically. After a serious knee injury and two bouts with a hamstring injury, Ramos was able to show exactly what he could do as a catcher and as a hitter.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (40) smiles after his grand slam during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park Sunday, July 28, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (40) smiles after his grand slam during ... more >

“When you go through injuries like that, there’s a process I’ve seen just from observing people that you have to prove it to yourself, that you’re over that hurdle,” said Nats reliever Tyler Clippard. “That was kind of the stretch where he was, yeah, I can do this. It was fun to watch.”

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Added reliever Drew Storen, “It was unbelievable to see him come back and catch that many games. You could tell, too, it was an even-keel 23 games. It wasn’t like he was dragging himself out there just for the sake of it. For him to come back healthy like that, to play that many days in a row and be the buffalo he is, it was beyond impressive.”

Ramos offered a tease of his ability in 2011 when he hit 15 home runs in 113 games. What is expected of him this season was expected in 2012. But he severely injured his knee in Cincinnati on May 12 and missed the rest of the season. Last season, a short stint on the DL with a hamstring issue was followed by a longer stint for the problem.

Yes, Ramos said, he wondered if he was destined to be troubled by injuries his entire career.

“Some days, I did think about that. I say to myself, ‘What’s wrong with me?’” Ramos said. “That happens in baseball. You have to be strong mentally, try to turn that page and keep working. That’s what I did. A lot of times, it was hard but I kept working hard and right now it feels good. I’m ready to play all year.”

Given continued health and based on what he did in the second half in 2013, it could be quite a year. After returning from the second hamstring injury, Ramos played 64 games. He hit 14 home runs, drove in 53 runs and had a .276 batting average.

“A healthy Wilson means a stronger lineup for us,” Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. “He’s fun to watch, the type of guy who when he comes up, everybody goes to the top step of the dugout.”

Matt Williams, the Nats’ first-year manager, has been impressed by Ramos‘ approach at the plate. Ramos, he noted, is more than just a slugger.

“I just see a guy that understands how to hit,” Williams said. “He has power. He also understands how to drive a run in. There’s an art to that. He has the innate ability to bounce that ball back through the middle. That’s how your RBI totals go way up.

“He’s one of the main cogs to this team in that he’s going to be a guy presented with a lot of situations to drive those runs in.”

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