- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2013

VIERA, Fla. — Wilson Ramos took another step in his rehab from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee Monday when the catcher caught two bullpen sessions in a row.

Ramos, who was practically skipping down the hallways in the team’s complex later, was elated by his progress. The Nationals‘ brass are just as excited.

Asked if he expected Ramos to be healthy enough for the Opening Day roster, manager Davey Johnson left no doubt.

“Yeah,” he said. “Most definitely.”

General manager Mike Rizzo agreed, saying the team’s plan is for him to “be ready to catch by Opening Day.”

“It’s slow and steady,” Rizzo said. “With the length of spring training this year, we’ve got the opportunity to take our time with him. But he’s progressing nicely. … We’ll continue to steadily increase his volume.”

Ramos has already begun to conquer what was admittedly his biggest fear: blocking. He participated in a blocking drill Sunday with bullpen coach Jim Lett throwing balls at the catchers, bouncing them in the dirt and on either side of them, and Ramos had no trouble.

“I felt nothing,” he said, unable to keep the smile from his face.

Monday he caught Dan Haren and then Ryan Perry in bullpen sessions and felt no weakness in his knee. He has participated in catching drills and taken batting practice each day as well.

Ramos has also noted he feels much lighter on his feet this season, the product of his efforts to slim down a little and get leaner. He has been encouraged with each new activity he is able to complete without issue.

“I got excited [Sunday] after I blocked because I was scared,” Ramos said. “But it cleared my mind a little bit. It was another step.”

Soriano takes session slow

Rafael Soriano climbed the mound in a Washington Nationals uniform Monday, throwing to Kurt Suzuki in his first bullpen session and taking things slow.

“I thought Soriano looked good,” Johnson said. “I thought he threw the ball good. He was doing a lot of long tossing. I liked the way he was throwing.”

Soriano, who is one session behind the rest of the Nationals‘ pitchers because a visa issue delayed his arrival in camp, threw mostly fastballs to Suzuki and didn’t appear to be throwing at his full capacity. He chatted with pitching coach Steve McCatty and Johnson, and seemed pleased with the work.

Soriano told Johnson he needs roughly 8 to 10 innings in the Grapefruit League to get himself ready for the season.

“He’s a veteran guy who knows how to get himself ready,” Rizzo said. “He’s just getting the kinks out today, doing some touch-and-feel command stuff. Just getting the arm loose for the first time.”

Strasburg to start Saturday

The Nationals have the top of their Grapefruit League rotation set with Stephen Strasburg slated to pitch in the opener Saturday against the New York Mets.

Strasburg will make the trip to Port St. Lucie to face the Mets while Jordan Zimmermann will pitch the home opener a day later against the Miami Marlins. Gio Gonzalez will start the third game, on Monday back in Port St. Lucie.

Johnson did not say which order Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren would go in the next two games.

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