VIERA, Fla. — Wilson Ramos was a little scared. He was a little nervous. For all of the things he’s done in his life, all of the things he’s done in baseball, he may have done this more than anything. Still, he felt anxious.
He leaned on the fence at the Nationals’ spring training complex Thursday morning and watched four of the Nationals’ best pitchers throw their first bullpen sessions of the spring. He was merely an observer through the first round. He waited his turn.
When the horn blew, Ramos, wearing his catching gear for the first time since a wet May night that saw his season end writhing in pain behind the plate in Cincinnati, tapped his silver chest protector and stepped in.
“Woah!” pitching coach Steve McCatty bellowed from behind the bullpen mounds. “We’ve got the Tin Man back there.”
Ramos, who later smiled and said McCatty is “crazy,” didn’t hear him. He was focused on Zach Duke, the left-hander throwing to him, and on overcoming his own fears.
“It’s a long time since I’ve been behind the plate,” Ramos said. “So I was a little bit scared. But I didn’t feel any pain or sore. I felt excited to be behind the plate again.”
Ramos felt a little weakness in his right knee, the one in which the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus have been repaired, and he was nervous about how his first session squatting, and catching, and putting his knees on the ground would go. He still has a mental hurdle when it comes to blocking balls, but he knows he will have to steel himself and get over it eventually.
“He looked great,” said manager Davey Johnson. “Caught a couple bouncers. I just watched him and the reaction he had when he got through, and he was grinning from ear-to-ear. In talking to him, he said it was just a little bit weaker but no pain. Then he hit really good. Said it didn’t bother him at all swinging the bat. We’re just going to take it easy with him, but he should be fine.”
When Duke threw a few balls that bounced, Ramos fielded them with his glove instead of blocking them with his body the way he normally would’ve.
“I tried to make it easy on him,” Duke said. “Tried to hit the spots as much as possible, try to keep him from having to block too much, but he looked good.”
“Next time, I think I will block those balls,” Ramos said.
That was perhaps the best thing that came out of Ramos’ first day back. He felt like he could do it again and again.
Ramos expects he’ll catch three or four more days straight. He will only catch one bullpen session per day right now, though, and work back up to catching two and three pitchers each day. Getting strong enough to return to game action will be another checkpoint.
“It was very fun to be back there,” Ramos said. “I was with my guys, working with them. I was [going] crazy to start playing again. Now I put my gear on, and I’m very happy for that. It was great to put it on. Now I feel like I’m on the team again. I’m back.”
Soriano delayed by visa issue
Rafael Soriano has not reported to Nationals’ camp yet, delayed in the Dominican Republic by a paperwork issue that is holding up his work visa.
Soriano acquired a five-year visa when he signed with the New York Yankees before the 2011 season, but he opted out of his contract with them last fall and signed with the Nationals this past January. Transferring it has caused the delay, but the hope is that he will be able to get to Viera by the end of the week.
“I’m not really worried about him because here’s a veteran pitcher, he knows what he needs to do to get ready,” Johnson said. “They’ve got great weather down there, I’m sure he’s not just sitting in watching TV. I’m sure he’ll come into camp in good shape. That’s the least of my worries.”
Harper arrives in camp
Nationals phenom Bryce Harper arrived at spring training on Thursday, looking bulked up with about 230 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame, and wasted no time in stating his overarching goal for the 2013 season.
“World Series,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing on my mind. I have goals in my head but I’m not ready to share those because people are probably going to think I’m crazy. I like to exceed my expectations and those are the only expectations that really matter to me.
“But you know the World Series is the biggest thing on my mind and I want to take that back to D.C. and give it to this organization and everybody in D.C.”