It was never designed to happen. It just developed organically, with Jose Lobaton becoming the equivalent of Gio Gonzalez's personal catcher over the course of the summer. Ten straight times Gonzalez took the mound to pitch, Lobaton took his spot behind the plate to catch the left-hander.
Until Wednesday night, when Wilson Ramos served as Gonzalez's batterymate and the streak ended.
The rationale behind the switch was simple enough: Ramos has suddenly turned productive at the plate in recent days, with five hits (including two homers) in his last 10 at-bats, so he would remain behind the plate no matter who was pitching Wednesday against the Padres.
"It's a function of Willie swinging the bat well, the homers he's hit, the balls he's driving," manager Matt Williams said. "We want to continue that offensive flow going as much as possible."
Gonzalez and Ramos worked together quite a bit early in the season; the two paired up six straight times to begin 2015. But then Lobaton started a game with Gonzalez and things went well, so the Nationals decided to try it again. And as it continued to work well, a pattern was established: If Gonzalez was pitching, Lobaton was catching.
The numbers speak for themselves. In eight starts with Ramos catching, Gonzalez owns a 5.12 ERA. In 15 starts with Lobaton catching, that number drops to 3.38.
"We want Gio to do well, certainly. And there's good rapport there," Williams said. "But we also want to make sure that we're putting our best foot forward, too, from an offensive perspective. So the way Willie's swinging, he's been really good. So we're going to put him back in there."
Ramos' increased production at the plate comes after a lengthy slump by the Nationals catcher, who hit .146 with a .183 on-base percentage and .184 slugging percentage during a 29-game stretch from July 6-August 21. Since then, he has found his stroke again, thanks in part to a slight adjustment in stance — he's spreading his legs out farther and crouching more — that mirrors what he did as a rookie in 2011.
"I feel very good," Ramos said. "I feel comfort. When you go up to the plate and you feel comfort, you're not scared to swing at the ball. I'm not thinking about anything right now. I'm just going up there and trying to put a good swing on the ball and try to bring runs. That's part of my job.
"I turned the page already. Bad things happened in the past. I don't care about that. I just concentrate on finishing my season strong. It's not about how you start, it's more about how you finish."
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