- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2013

VIERA, Fla. — From the first day he checked in at spring training, the return to form of catcher Wilson Ramos has been one of the Washington Nationals’ most uplifting stories.

In a camp marked by tranquility and positivity, Ramos‘ ever-present smile and genuine excitement about his progress in rehabbing the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee have topped every other development.

When the catcher stood behind the plate a few weeks ago and caught in a game for the first time since May, general manager Mike Rizzo said it was the best day of the spring for him.

But Ramos‘ progress has affected more than just the emotions of an organization.

Where once the plan was likely to give Kurt Suzuki the majority of the playing time at the season’s outset, while easing Ramos back into a heavier workload, the two catchers appear to be heading for a more even split.

“I look at both pretty much being on equal footing going into the year right now,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said, pointing to the fact that Suzuki and Ramos have alternated behind the plate each game for the past few weeks.

“If it ain’t broke, why do I gotta fix it? I like where they are. Anyone gets a little problem, I’ve got a backup plan.”

The Nationals are in a fortunate position when it comes to their catching corps. Both players possess the talents to be considered No. 1 catchers, and both have potential to help the team offensively.

But perhaps the most positive thing about the situation is that neither player seems to mind sharing time with the other.

“Both of us together, healthy, I think it’s pretty good,” Suzuki said. “Without getting overconfident, I think it’s fair to say it’s pretty good. I’m excited to play alongside him.”

“I don’t have any problem to play with him,” added Ramos. “We can help the team better together. I’m very happy to play with him. The most important thing here is to help the team to win the games. I can learn a lot with him.”

It does present another challenge for Johnson, though, who already faces a difficult task in ensuring that talented youngsters on the bench such as Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore get enough playing time to stay sharp.

The idea that it will likely be an every-other-day situation for each player, however, seems to make it doable — and far more appealing than a plan in which either player sits for multiple days.

That was the role Suzuki was forced into toward the end of his time with Oakland in 2012 with the A’s pushing former Nationals prospect Derek Norris into the everyday role. He acknowledges it was difficult.

“That was a challenge,” Suzuki said. “I was one on, three off, which is kind of crappy. I found a way to do it pretty good, but it’s not the ideal situation. … I think it’d be more beneficial to the team if we both have our at-bats. Keep us both sharp.”

The Nationals know all too well the way the best laid plans can be tossed aside with one cleat caught in the grass on an otherwise unremarkable night. They acquired Suzuki in August in part because they knew he had another year left on his contract and they wanted to pair him with Ramos for the 2013 season.

They may have sped up their timeline due to Ramos‘ health and strong return, but otherwise it’s set up just like they planned.

“You get worn down [over the course of a season],” Suzuki said. “The point is for us to work together and win. And I think keeping both of us sharp, in the lineup at all times, is the best way to keep our team full strength. If you can have catchers strong all season, it’s a strength.”



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