VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos caught pitches from right-hander Stephen Strasburg and left-hander Zach Duke at the team's Minor League facility on Thursday. It marked the first time Ramos was behind the plate since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against the Reds last May.
Ramos acknowledged that he was nervous before going to work on Thursday. He wondered how his knee would react when he blocked balls or squatted behind the plate. As it turned out, Ramos didn't feel any pain, but his right knee felt tired after the bullpen sessions were over. Ramos' knee was packed with ice after the session.
Ramos hopes he can start blocking balls behind the plate soon. Duke threw two balls in the dirt, but Ramos tried to catch them with his glove instead of dropping down to block them.
"I was a little bit scared behind the plate. I felt excited to be behind the plate again," Ramos said. "[During the bullpen sessions], I felt my knee getting tired, a little bit weak. I have to keep working out, trying to get my knee stronger for the next bullpen [session]."
Manager Davey Johnson has already said that he plans to start Ramos off slowly because of the knee injury. As of now, Kurt Suzuki is slated to be the No. 1 catcher.
"Hopefully I will work hard and be behind the plate for Opening Day," Ramos said. "I feel I need a little bit more time to feel … 100 percent. I feel I'm close to that. Right now, I feel like it's 90 percent. It's pretty close."
Ramos' biggest test will come when he plays in a Spring Training game.
"There is more excitement behind the plate -- block the ball, run behind first base for every ground ball to short and second," Ramos said. "You have to keep moving. It's going to be more and harder in the game. I'm working hard to be behind the plate in the game. When I start playing again, hopefully, I will be good."
Silver Slugger Award win a surprise for Stras
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg said Thursday that he was shocked that he won the Silver Slugger Award during the offseason. It was the first piece of hardware he's won since he entered the big leagues in 2010. Strasburg went 13-for-47 (.277) with a home run and seven RBIs during the 2012 season.
"I was kind of shocked. I really didn't look at the numbers or anything. That's not what I focus on, but I was pretty excited," Strasburg said. "My friends and family were a little more excited. I didn't expect it to be the first award."
Strasburg thought he could handle the bat until he reached the big leagues in 2010. In his first two years in the Majors, he was 1-for-26 with an RBI. For Strasburg, the game suddenly sped up on him at the plate.
During the offseason of 2011, with the help of former college teammate Brandon "Bubba" Ruddy, Strasburg decided to improve his swing.
"When he was working in the [batting] cages, he wouldn't start work until 2 in the afternoon, so he would catch my [bullpen sessions]," Strasburg said. "And then after that, we would run together and I would hang out at the batting cage, and that's when I would hit a little bit and then go home."
What was Ruddy's reaction to Strasburg wining the Silver Slugger Award?
"He was more excited than I was. He told me that he wants a copy of the trophy so he could have it in his office," Strasburg said.
Nats plan on stretching out Garcia
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson plans to stretch out right-hander Christian Garcia when the Grapefruit League season begins. Garcia could pitch three to four innings in his outings.
Because Garcia has three pitches in his repertoire, Johnson considers him a starter, but he knows that Garcia is a quality reliever.
"[I told him], you could think of yourself however you want, but if you could get comfortable starting, that would be great," Johnson said.
Garcia was a September callup last year and allowed three runs in 12 2/3 innings out of the bullpen. He also struck out 15 batters.
"His curveball is great. Fastball has great movement. He pitches in the mid-90s. He threw some 97-mile-an-hour sinkers last year that were unhittable," Johnson said about Garcia. "He threw some of the best changeups. His curveball might be even better than [Stephen Strasburg's]. It's a knuckle-curve. Starters go to the 'pen, not the other way around. He just has a great arm."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.