PHOENIX — The Nationals have always known Wilson Ramos could hit, with the obvious caveat always inserted to the end of that statement: “If he stays healthy.”
Well, Ramos has stayed healthy through the season’s first six weeks. And he has hit. The question is: Could the Nationals have known he could hit quite like this, with a .320 batting average that ranks among the league leaders and a 14-game hitting streak that is the majors’ current best?
“We know he can hit,” manager Matt Williams said. “For him, it’s a question of health and being able to get out there every day. We’re trying to pick our spots in giving him days off and making sure we take care of him, too. But the way he’s hitting, he’s a vital part of our offense.”
It’s tough to fault the logic, because Ramos has been key to the Nationals’ offensive resurgence over the last two weeks. His 14-game hitting streak began four nights before the Nats’ record-setting comeback win in Atlanta, which has sparked this team to 11 wins in its last 13 games entering Tuesday.
Ramos’ .320 batting average leads all qualified NL catchers and ranks second only to Oakland’s Stephen Vogt among all MLB catchers.
“I feel comfortable at the plate right now,” he said. “I’m working in the cage with [hitting coach] Rick Schu. He helps me a lot. And I’m doing my routine. That routine helps me to concentrate and get a good pitch to hit. That’s what I’m doing right now. I have to keep it going. That’s good for me, good for the team, because I’m helping the team a lot. That’s my job. I have to keep it going.”
A career .269 hitter prior to this season, Ramos has taken his game to another level. One key: He has made progress in laying off pitches outside the zone, a longstanding issue. His strikeout rate of 14.8 percent is down from 16.1 percent entering 2015.
“I feel like the experience I’ve got the past few years has helped me to go out and play and be more patient, get a good pitch to hit,” he said. “Sometimes, I try to do too much. That’s the reason I miss a ball. But that happens in the game. The game’s emotions made me do that. But I have to keep doing what I’m doing, be more patient, get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on the ball.”
Ramos also has to keep himself in the lineup, something he’s never been able to do in his career. He has, however, worked extensively on physical conditioning, particularly in his legs, and on Tuesday was scheduled to catch his 27th game, putting him on pace for 129 games behind the plate this season. (Only Cardinals All-Star Yadier Molina has caught more games so far among NL catchers in 2015.)
“I know it’s a tough position, but I’m working every day with my legs, that helps me to be behind the plate for a lot of games,” Ramos said. “That’s what I want to do. In the beginning of the season, in spring training, I said I want to catch 120-130 games. That’s my goal for this year. I have to keep it going, keep working.”