- The Washington Times
Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Nationals’ end-of-the-season stroll through September was expected to be smoother than this. A little work on pitcher alignment here, maybe taking some joy in the third National League East division title of the last five years there. The road to the postseason wasn’t supposed to be pockmarked with uncertainty about several key players and some punch-to-the-face news about one of their All-Stars.

But that’s where the Nationals find themselves after learning Tuesday that catcher Wilson Ramos is out for the year because of a torn ACL in his right knee.

The 29-year-old was having his best season. He became an All-Star for the first time, an honor prompted by his bat and steady defensive work. Ramos, who is in the final year of his contract, thrived instead of cowered. When he has surgery later this week, the back of his baseball card will show a .307 average and 22 home runs. Only one catcher, Jonathan Lucroy of Texas, has a higher OPS, and the gap between the two is slim.

“There’s never an opportune time,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “This was the most inopportune time for this to happen at this point in time. His faith will carry him through. I talked to him last night after the game and I talked to him today and after talking to him, you wouldn’t know that this was a negative event. I don’t know how he feels on the inside, but I told him: ‘Hey man, you and Daniel Murphy -— particularly you two guys — carried us to this point.’ Now it’s up to some of the other guys to take us to the next level and then the next level after that.”

Ramos was injured in the sixth inning Monday night when he jumped for a relay throw to the plate from Ryan Zimmerman. He reached above his head to catch the throw, then came down on his right leg. Ramos, who was battered throughout the season behind the plate yet always seemed to stay in, crumpled to the ground. He signalled for the trainer, then reached for his right knee. Behind his facemask, Ramos’ face scrunched with pain.

Ramos tore the ACL and MCL in the same knee May 12, 2012. He returned to play all of the opener on April 1, 2013. One of the complications for Ramos this time is the timing of the injury, beyond the immediate impact and its influence on his pending free agency. Typically, recovery from ACL surgery takes 6-12 months. If Ramos hits the middle of that recovery timeline, that means he is out until next June.

Jose Lobaton, a defense-first catcher, will move into the Ramos’ position, for now. Rookie Pedro Severino, who has 25 career MLB plate appearances, will be the backup. The Nationals also added Spencer Keiboom to the roster Tuesday. He’s the emergency catcher. This is the first time Keiboom has been in the major leagues.

Ramos’ injury means Baker has to reconfigure his lineup. Ramos hit primarily fifth or sixth throughout the season. Baker and hitting coach Rick Schu began tinkering in Baker’s office late Monday night, before even knowing the long-term news about Ramos, writing out lineups, then tossing them aside. Bench coach Chris Speier wondered about the growing pile of discards when he popped in to say goodnight.

“He asked me what those 15 sheets of rolled up paper in the trash can were,” Baker said.

Since Baker moved Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon into the second and fifth spots in the batting order, respectively, each has excelled. Werth remained second in the lineup Tuesday. Rendon was moved to cleanup because Bryce Harper (thumb) was once again out of the lineup. Baker said Harper declared himself ready to play Tuesday after x-rays on Monday of his injured thumb produced negative results. Instead, Baker opted to give Harper another day off.

The 31-year-old Lobaton is beloved by the pitching staff for his low target, soft receiving hands and savvy knowledge of hitters. He excels at “stealing” strikes with subtle movement of his glove. However, his offensive ability significantly trails that of Ramos. Lobaton is a career .224 hitter who hit .220 this season in 91 at-bats. He is also dealing with an achy right ankle, though said he is ready to fill-in for his friend.

Stephen Strasbrug’s status is still unclear. Daniel Murphy is recovering from a buttocks strain. Harper is close to returning.

“It’s the most inopportune time for this to happen to [Ramos],” Baker said. “But it’s time for us to, I think as a whole, maybe to take care of him, too, because he’s taken pretty good care of us.”

That process began Tuesday night.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.