PHILADELPHIA — Wilson Ramos didn't realize it until informed Tuesday afternoon. But upon learning he had played in his 114th game of the season the previous night, establishing a new career high, the Nationals catcher couldn't hold back a wide smile.
"You tell me that right now, and it makes me feel excited," he said. "I've been working really, really hard to be healthy to be behind the plate for a lot of games. And this year I did it well. It makes me feel good, because I'm doing what I was working for. It feels really good."
Since appearing in 113 games as a rookie in 2011, Ramos had been striving to make it through a full season healthy. And he simply hadn't been able to do it, limited to a grand total of 191 games from 2012-14.
At last, though, he has pulled it off, thanks in large part (he believes) to the work he did before ever arriving in Viera for spring training. A rigorous conditioning and strengthening program has allowed him to avoid the kind of leg injuries that hampered him so many times before and allowed him to maintain his weight through the grind of a long year.
"All the work I did before the season helped me for the season," he said. "I think that helped me to be healthy. All I did, I did well."
Ramos on Tuesday was slated to catch his 113th game, a number that trails only the Padres' Derek Norris (a former Nationals prospect) in the NL. (His two other appearances this year came as a DH and pinch-hitter.) If he maintains his current pace, he'll finish the season with 128 games behind the plate, easily surpassing his longstanding goal of 120.
So, how does Ramos feel physically at this point in the season?
"I feel good," he insisted. "It's not easy to be behind the plate for 113 games, but that's my job and I've been working for that. I don't feel anything tired on my body right now. When I get home after the season, maybe I'll feel it. But when I come here every day, I'm mentally strong and ready."
The heavy workload may or may not have had a negative effect on Ramos' offensive performance. He has been inconsistent at the plate throughout the season, resulting in a .237 batting average, 13 homers, 47 RBI and .633 OPS that ranks 22nd out of 24 major-league catchers with at least 300 plate appearances.
"I know I can do better than I did this season," he said. "But it happens in baseball. I'm working hard to be consistent every time. This year, I had some really long slumps, for me. But I didn't put my head down. I kept working. And after that, I had an 11-game hitting streak. That's what I want to do. I want to be consistent."
Offensive inconsistencies aside, Ramos' work behind the plate has satisfied the Nationals. His 44.7 percent caught-stealing rate is tops among all big-league catchers with at least 40 innings played this season. His 10.3 defensive rating, according to Fangraphs, rank second in the NL behind only Yadier Molina.
"It's a demanding position, for sure, and I think he's held up just fine," manager Matt Williams said. "He's done a nice job of throwing guys out, blocking the baseball and making sure he's keeping our guys competitive within the game. He's done great. It's difficult for any catcher, but he wants to play every day. He has desire to do that, and I think he's kept himself in good shape and he's prepared."
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