- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Their third baseman is still down with a thumb injury and their left fielder will be out of the lineup for months yet. The Nationals will even hold their breath on Friday when starting pitcher Doug Fister makes his season debut thanks to a sore elbow.

They are far from full health. But the return of catcher Wilson Ramos gives Washington hope that the worst is behind it now.

Just five weeks after undergoing surgery to remove the hamate bone in his left wrist, Ramos returned to the lineup Wednesday. He walked, doubled and drove home the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly in a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park.

Ramos was originally hurt during spring training and sustained the broken bone during a swing March 31 against the New York Mets in the first game of the season. His return was relatively fast for such an injury, which can sap a hitter’s power for months.

“It didn’t take him long, did it? He pounded that ball,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “Great to have him back and more importantly to have him healthy. He said he felt great in his rehab starts. And, knock on wood, hopefully we can keep him out there and put an end to these injuries.”

Ramos‘ presence is a bright spot after a rash of injuries that includes Fister (elbow), the fourth starter, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (broken right thumb) and outfielder Bryce Harper (torn left thumb ligament).

Fister is expected to make his season debut Friday night in Oakland. After Wednesday’s game, first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore was sent to Triple-A Syracuse to make room on the roster for Fister.

The long layoff didn’t appear to hamper Ramos, who ripped a double off Dodgers starter Dan Haren into the gap in left-center field on the first pitch he saw. Later, with the score tied 2-2, he flew out to right field to push home teammate Denard Span with the eventual winning run. Ramos also walked in the eighth inning. It was a satisfying moment for a player who has endured his share of injuries early in his career.

“That’s not the first time I came back from the [disabled list],” he said. “I was very excited today, I was waiting for this moment for like five weeks. I’m happy to be here, I’m happy to be back on the team.”

And that was all starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg needed. After a rough first inning, when Los Angeles recorded four consecutive singles and took a 2-0 lead, Strasburg retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced with the lone baserunner erased via a double play. He needed just one pitch to escape a first-and-second, two-out jam in the sixth inning to preserve the lead when Andre Ethier grounded out to second base.

Strasburg (3-2, 3.45 ERA) finished 7 1/3 innings with two runs allowed on seven hits. He struck out six batters and walked two.

“That’s the position I want to be in,” Strasburg said after throwing a season-high 114 pitches. “That’s going to make me a better pitcher in the long run. Every time out, I want to go as deep as I can and keep it close.”

In that eighth inning, Dee Gordon bunted for a hit and Strasburg walked Hanley Ramirez after a fly out to left. Reliever Jerry Blevins won a hard-fought at-bat with Adrian Gonzalez by inducing a foul out to third base. Tyler Clippard then came on to get Yasiel Puig to line out to center and end the threat.

“[Strasburg is] our horse,” manager Matt Williams said. ‘[Gordon] laid down a perfect bunt and the subsequent batters forced us to go to the bullpen with [Gonzalez] coming up there. But he’s a guy that can go 120. We don’t want to do that every time. But in a game like today, he got the lead and we wanted to show confidence in him that we’re willing to send him back out there to protect that lead.”

Washington closer Rafael Soriano struck out two batters in the ninth and retired the side in order to earn his seventh save and secure the victory. The Nats took two of three games against the defending NL West champions and improved to 19-15 heading into a road trip to Oakland and Arizona.

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