Breakout Performer: Arepas-Fueled Wilson Ramos Ignites Resurgent Nationals
On Monday, Washington Nationals 26-year-old Venezuelan catcher Wilson Ramos finally got some rest, after starting 23 consecutive games behind the plate, the most this season by a catcher in the majors. It's even more impressive considering Ramos hit the disabled list twice this season with a left hamstring strain, and is only one year removed from a season-ending ACL tear.
Ramos has swatted 15 home runs in only 255 at bats this year and has hit 6 dingers over the past 16 games. Washington has been one of the hottest teams in the league since the All-Star break and went 17-6 over Ramos' 23-game streak, pulling within 8 games of the NL East leading Braves and 4.5 games of the Reds for the final Wild Card spot.
How does Ramos do it? Arepas, of course.
“I’m not trying to break records or nothing."
"For me, that’s a good test for my knee," Ramos said of his consecutive games streak. "It’s not easy catching 22 games in a row. That made me feel good because now I know my knee and hamstring is good.”
“After I missed so many games, I want to play a lot,” Ramos said. “I want to play as much as I can right now for this team. I want to play every day, because it makes me more consistent. I know better my pitchers. I’m more patient when I’m hitting. I feel better when I play every day."
Here's Ramos after a stellar 4-4, 5 RBI job on September 15:
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When one reporter told Ramos that the all-time record belonged to Frankie Hayes, who caught a ludicrous 312 consecutive games from 1943 to 1946, Ramos shook his head in disbelief. “I’m not gonna make that," he said. "Not for me.” Probably not for any catcher who wants to walk after retirement.
FACT The key to Ramos' endurance? Arepas, a popular Venezuelan flatbread stuffed with meat, cheese or sweets.
In the offseason, he dieted and trimmed down in an effort to lighten the load on his surgically repaired knee, though the weight loss may have caused a different kind of injury.
“After I pulled my hamstring the second time, Ian [Desmond] tell me, ‘Stop [dieting]. Keep eating arepa, pasta, everything. Get your weight, your normal weight. You was 250 pounds and you never pulled your hamstring. Nothing. Now you lost weight and you started pulling your hamstring.’”
More arepas it is, and it's hard to argue the results. “I’m playing better and feeling better. If eat every day arepa, I can play every day," Ramos joked.
“It’s hard. I want to get a couple infield singles,” Ramos said, chuckling. “I know I’m not a fast runner. I don’t want to lose time trying to get an infield single.”
The Nationals have prohibited Ramos from running out ground balls at full speed, in hopes of preventing another hamstring strain.
FACT In 2011, Nationals rookies (and other young players) had to suit up and paint up as Smurfs. Guess which one is Ramos.
Yep, Smurfette. He's angled against Papa Smurf (Stephen Strasburg). We had always figured Smurfette was hooking up with Handy Smurf.
“I tell everybody if you want to be a catcher, you need to be ready [to get bruised all over the body]. It’s not an easy position.”
Ramos concluded thusly after telling the Washington Post about the hazards of catching, and listing a few of the places he's bruised--on the ankle, knees, chest, and hands.
"I didn't know if I was coming home alive," Ramos said of his kidnapping ordeal in November 2011. "These were people I don't know and they kill for money ... to think about this made my spirits go down and I was worried. I do not wish that experience upon anyone."
Ramos was abducted at gunpoint in front of his mother's home in Venezuela, while his family looked on helplessly. The group of kidnappers warned his family to look away as they shoved Ramos into an SUV and took him into the mountains, where he remained for over 48 hours until Venezuelan security forces rescued him during a raid.
Although he returned unscathed, the harrowing encounter took its toll mentally. "The truth is I'm still very nervous," he said after, "but thanks to God everything turned out well."
FACT Just prior to the trade deadline in 2010, in the midst of the playoff hunt, the Minnesota Twins traded Ramos to the Nationals for Nats then-closer Matt Capps, who was 3-3 with a 2.74 ERA and 26 saves. At the start of the season, the Twins had given great-hitting but oft-injured catcher Joe Mauer a monster eight-year, $184 million extension, limiting Ramos' opportunities for the foreseeable future.
In his major league debut for Twins in 2010, Ramos notched a hit in his first at bat and collected three more for a 4-5 performance.
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FACT Fluke plays happen. Watch what recently happened when Ramos made a snap-throw to first.
“I followed Ivan Rodriguez’s career when I was young. Getting an opportunity to play with him here [2010-11] was unbelievable. I think calling the game is the most important thing for the catcher.”
Ramos collected 15 home runs in 389 at bats in his first full season in the majors in 2011 and he's tallied 15 so far in only 255 at bats this year, along with a .286 batting average. But he's made a perhaps even bigger contribution giving signals behind the plate. Nationals pitchers have recorded a 3.31 ERA with Ramos at backstop, compared with a 4.01 ERA for backup catcher Kurt Suzuki.
“Ramos will pitch inside more,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I like the way Ramos sets his target better than Suzuki."
FACT Catchers and umpires have a special relationship. Watch Ramos get an assist on this foul ball from umpire Phil Cuzzi.
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FACT Ramos hit his first career grand slam on July 28, 2013.