With their exhibition schedule now in the books, the Nationals have sorted out their final roster decisions. Manager Davey Johnson announced on Friday Wilson Ramos will start at catcher on Opening Day and that relief pitcher Henry Rodriguez will make the 25-man roster.
Ramos is slated to catch the first game with Kurt Suzuki taking over on Wednesday to catch Gio Gonzalez. Johnson said he looks at both Ramos and Suzuki as number one catchers and the two will alternate depending on the pitcher.
The 25-year-old Ramos in some ways completes an almost year-long comeback from tearing the ACL in his right knee last May. He started last Opening Day after finishing fourth in N.L. Rookie of the Year voting in 2011.
Johnson approached Ramos during batting practice on Friday to share the news.
“I have been waiting for this moment,” Ramos said. “I was sliding, I was working to get my job back. This is a very exciting day for me.”
“The last ten or 11 months I have worked hard for this moment.”
Johnson explained the decision in part as a reward for Ramos’ perseverance and hard work. He saw Ramos the day he suffered the injury and was amazed at the shape he was in when pitchers and catchers reported back in February.
“The progress he’s made with rehabbing himself after being out all year, he’s been rehabbing hard and looked great all spring,” Johnson said.
“Just kind of a carrot for hard work.”
Ramos earned the nod after a terrific spring at the plate. In 14 games this spring, Ramos hit .333 with two home runs, five RBI, and 12 total hits. He says his knee sometimes feels even better than it did before.
“It feels great right now, I feel like 100 percent. That’s the most important thing now for me.”
Johnson chose Rodriguez to finalize his roster over left-handed reliever J.C. Romero. Romero will likely be optioned to Triple-A Syracuse in the coming days.
Rodriguez earns a roster spot after undergoing elbow surgery in late August. He returned for the Nats this spring and produced mixed results. In 9 2/3 innings he held a 3.72 ERA with seven strikeouts, but walked eleven batters along the way. He got through the sixth inning on Friday with no runs across despite allowing a walk to Brett Gardner.
It wasn’t pretty as is rarely is for Rodriguez, but he lit up the radar gun with high 90s heat and even made New York’s Eduardo Nunez nearly fall down on a curveball. He once again flashed talent that has both teased and tormented Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo over the last three seasons.
“He’s got outstanding stuff,” Johnson said. “He’s not someone you can give up on easy.”
Davey believes the elbow surgery could in the long run help out with Rodriguez’ wild tendencies.
“He only started getting wild last year, I’m sure the elbow was bothering him with the bone chip in there.”
Johnson was asked whether being wild can help a pitcher and he acknowledged it can make batters feel uneasy at the plate.
“When you throw that hard and you do occasionally let one go, there not comfortable up there. No one is comfortable up there. Just ask the second baseman for the Braves how he feels about it.”
The Nationals will announce the official Opening Day roster on Sunday.