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Robinson honored to throw out first pitch

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Robinson honored to throw out first pitch

The gait was perhaps a bit slower, the gray hair perhaps a bit thinner, the No. 20 Nationals jersey perhaps a bit more snug. But there was something both familiar and comforting when Frank Robinson walked to the mound this afternoon before a sellout crowd at Nationals Park, invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the franchise's first-ever home playoff game.

Today's game was first and foremost a celebration of the 2012 Nationals and their NL East title. But it was also a celebration of how the organization reached this point, and surely an appropriate opportunity to recognize this team's first manager.

"It was delightful, quite an honor," Robinson said later during a visit. I enjoyed doing it. And I thanked the Lerner family for asking me to do it."

Though he had made a couple of unofficial visits to Nationals Park over the last five seasons, Robinson had never formally returned or appeared on the field in front of fans, the result of lingering resentment over his firing at the end of the 2006 season by former general manager Jim Bowden and former team president Stan Kasten.

Members of the current Lerner family ownership group have maintained a cordial relationship with Robinson, though, and chose this event to invite him back.

The 77-year-old Hall of Famer broke out his old jersey number and was greeted with a rousing ovation from the crowd when he stepped to the mound and then threw a floating strike to shortstop Ian Desmond, who this spring changed his uniform number from 6 to 20 in part to honor Robinson.

"He's worn it well," Robinson said.

After relocating with the MLB-owned franchise from Montreal after the 2004 season, Robinson guided the inaugural Nationals to an 81-81 record and a mid-season playoff run that faded down the stretch. They didn't reach the .500 mark again until this season, drawing more fans than they had since that 2005 campaign at RFK Stadium.

Robinson isn't surprised in the least by the local support for a winning ballclub.

"It was an exciting time when we came here, and the two years we spent here, especially the first half of the first year, it was great," he said. "It was exciting. And it was good for the fans, because there were people that were saying that baseball wouldn't go here with the Orioles just down the way. And I told them they were wrong from the beginning. When we were in Montreal and thinking about coming here, I said these are great baseball fans here. Put a good product out there and they'll come out and root for the team. It's great. It's great to see this. It's well-deserved."

The Nationals will dip into the D.C. baseball history well again tomorrow afternoon. Former Senators slugger Frank Howard is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4.

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What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

It was just a few weeks ago that Joe Ross' postseason availability was in question, and if he could return in time, whether he would pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen and or as a starter wasn't clear. Manager Dusty Baker wondered aloud if he would get his young right-hander back, even as Stephen Strasburg dealt with elbow injuries.

The progress Ross has made in a short period of time since is remarkable and after his 90-pitch outing on Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old looks and feels ready for the playoffs, and not just to pitch in relief, either.

"I'm hoping I get the opportunity to start, but that's up to them," Ross said. "But I'll take any opportunity I get to pitch and go out there and compete. I just want to help the team in any way I can."

Ross wasn't great on Thursday in his third start back from the disabled list. He only made it four innings, as his pitch count soared early. But in giving up just one run, he's now pitched 9 2/3 innings in three games back. During that stretch he's allowed three runs and struck out 14.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos hopes to be back with Nationals]

It has been a process of baby steps for the Nats starter, a slow progression back from right shoulder inflammation, an injury rehab that featured a setback in late July. Now, though, he is essentially back to normal, just in time for the NL Division Series which begins next week.

"I feel good. I felt really good today. I felt really good last start. I guess it's just a point of executing pitches," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind really on whether I can go out and compete."

Baker mentioned that Ross could pitch in releif early in the NLDS against the Dodgers. That could keep him available for a start later on, if it's kept short like a normal bullpen session.

But one has to wonder if Ross has improved his case enough to pitch Game 3 of that series, given Gio Gonzalez' recent struggles. The lefty has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 23 innings going back five starts.

Regardless, Ross has certainly come a long way in just three MLB outings.

"He looks ready," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter.

With all the negative injury news the Nationals have received in recent days, between Wilson Ramos' season-ending injury and Strasburg essentially ruled out for the NLDS, having Ross fully back in the mix is a nice change of fortune for the NL East champs.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos won't be on the field for the Washington Nationals when the team takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Divisional Series next week.

The 2016 N.L. All-Star catcher will undergo surgery to repair the ACL he tore in his right knee on Monday night against the Diamondbacks

Ramos has been arguably the Nationals' most constant offensive threat this season, and had positioned himself as the team's backstop for the foreseeable future.

But the injury changed everything.

Not just because the surgery and rehab will stretch well into Spring Training, but because the 29-year-old Ramos will become a free agent at the end of the season. On top of that, a second ACL injury (He tore it in 2012 as well) means that taking the field everyday as a catcher may not be a viable option for him much longer.

"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," Ramos told reporters prior to the Nationals' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon.

"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 is a solid defensive catcher, but his biggest strength is at the plate. Being able to be a part of a lineup everyday is where he is most valuable, and that may mean playing in the American League, where he can serve as the designated hitter and fill in as catcher.

But this doesn't mean Ramos is done as a member of the Nationals, just that he's aware his time could be coming to an end.