After Gio Gonzalez labored through 3 2/3 innings on an inefficient 100 pitches in the Nats' loss to the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, it must have been a breath of fresh air to see reliever Matt Belisle take over and record four outs on just seven pitches, including a perfect fifth inning, the final frame on defense for the Nats before their game was cut short due to rain.
Belisle even began the fifth by getting examined by trainer Paul Lessard and pitching coach Mike Maddux. They saw him grimace on several pitches, possibly due to a minor forearm issue he's been dealing with lately. Whatever it was, it didn't affect his results.
“Hey man, this guy’s a man – a very strong man physically and mentally," manager Dusty Baker said. "He said he was fine. I mean, this guy wants to pitch."
Baker said there are no lingering concerns about Belisle's forearm, which contributed to him not pitching from Sept. 8 until Sept. 25. They gave him a rest, but now he's back and has tossed three scoreless innings since.
"I mean, this guy’s a man. He’s what you think about when you think about a Texan," Baker said. "I’m serious.I knew him when he was a kid, in Cincinnati, and he was a man then. He wants the ball."
Belisle hasn't pitched much in recent weeks, but Baker's comments after Wednesday's loss shared insight into his chances to make the playoff roster. In short, he sounds like a lock.
"We have to make sure that he’s ready for the postseason because he’s had a very good year for us. Out of spring training, really wasn’t sure because he had a bad calf. Then he had a bad forearm there for awhile, but this guy has performed admirably."
Belisle, 36, now boasts a 1.76 ERA through 40 appearances this season. He beat the odds to make their Opening Day roster and has since turned into one of their most consistent bullpen arms.
"He’s had very good success against left-handers. You certainly need those guys come playoff time," Baker said.
Given those comments, it appears Belisle will be in store when the Nats face the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Also in in that mix will be Mark Melancon, Shawn Kelley, Sammy Solis, Blake Treinen and Marc Rzepczynski.
That leaves little room for others - likely Sean Burnett, Reynaldo Lopez, Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit - to compete for the final spot or spots, depending on how many relievers they carry. Given there is one less starter with Stephen Strasburg's injury, that could open the door for two of those pitchers to make the roster.
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All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, a symbol of strength all year for the Nationals, a man physically imposing and tough enough to earn the nickname The Buffalo, walked into the clubhouse in Washington on Thursday with the help of crutches, his right knee still swollen from the fall on wet infield dirt that he suffered three days prior, an awkward landing that re-tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
He made his way through the locker room, as other players smiled in his direction.
One shouted his nickname: "Buffaloooooo." He smiled, a nice reminder of the support he has from his teammates, the support he will need moving forward in what could be another year-long rehab to get back to where he was just a few days ago.
"I feel a little bit more relaxed," Ramos said through an interpreter. "I've had a few days to take a step back and think about it. It's obviously very frustrating for me going through this towards the end. But all I can do is stay positive and make sure I get my rest, rehab properly and come back stronger."
Ramos, 29, will take the next few days to let the swelling go down. Then, it's reconstructive surgery and after that a long recovery that will keep him away from the Nationals during the playoffs. He will watch from home as they embark on another playoff run and try to finish what he helped start. Ramos will not be able to see their mission all the way through and that, in particular, is crushing.
"I’m going to have to support the team from home because it’s going to be very difficult for me to get around with the knee after the surgery," he said.
"It’s going to be very difficult [to watch in TV], given the circumstances. I wish I was out there helping the team as much as possible but at the same time, I gotta be a professional and a good team and support the team from home as much as I can so that’s what I’m going to do."
Manager Dusty Baker said he hopes Ramos can still help advise the remaining catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino through phone calls and text messages. Ramos has years of experience working with most of the pitchers on their staff and can be a still be a resource.
“He’s a big part of our team the last couple days when he hadn’t been in the dugout there’s a spot missing in the dugout," Baker said.
It may be the last impact Ramos makes for the Nationals, as he's an impending free agent. And with his rehab likely stretching until late next season, there are many questions about his future.
If Ramos has it his way, he'd love to be back in Washington, where he has played for seven MLB seasons.
"This organization has given me the opportunity to grow play a role as much as I have and I’m very appreciative of tall that. I would love to stay here and keep playing with this team," he said.
"They’ve given me an opportunity in my career that I haven’t gotten anywhere else. Unfortunately, this injury happened so close to the end and it may affect whether I’m able to stay with a National League team or not, but if it’s up to me, I definitely would like to keep playing for the Nationals and play as long as I can."
Ramos has received lots of messages from family, teammates and fans in support. He's trying to keep his spirits up, knowing the difficult road ahead and the uncertainty of his rehab from a second torn ACL.
It's not an easy situation to handle, but Ramos is happy with what he accomplished this season. He is likely to win the Silver Slugger award for NL catchers and earn MVP votes after batting .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBI.
It was a great year, he just may have to wait a while for the opportunity to build on it.
"I'm very pleased with the season and the way it's gone this year. I've worked hard to put up the offensive numbers that I did this year, especially after a disappointing last season," he said.
"It's a very frustrating time for me as well right now, going through this situation, but all I can do is make sure I prepare right, rehab right, get stronger. I've gotta look at everything and how everything happens for a reason. I've gotta get the most positive thing that I can out of this situation and keep moving forward."
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