03/23/2013 5:30 PM ET
Classic opens Nats' door for reliever Romero
By Joey Nowak / MLB.com
VIERA, Fla. -- For many players, Spring Training serves as an audition of sorts. In J.C. Romero's case, the World Baseball Classic served as an audition for a Spring Training gig.
The Nationals signed the left-handed reliever to a Minor League contract with an invitation to big league Spring Training on Friday, with the idea that Romero can serve as bullpen depth in the Minors before, perhaps, joining the team during the season, if need be.
"It was very important," Romero said of the World Baseball Classic. "It gave me a chance of showing everybody that I was healthy, I was back where I was back in the day, and I'm very thankful for the opportunity."
The 36-year-old southpaw has pitched for seven teams in the last two years, after playing his first seven seasons in Minnesota. He has three-plus years of experience in the National League East with the Phillies, and owns a 34-28 career record and a 4.16 ERA. Lefties have hit .220 against him in his career, with righties batting .271.
"You could see the talent, and they were in the division that I was very familiar with," Romero said of signing with the Nationals. "You just like what they were made of. I just liked the way they approach the game, and the team was the type of team I wanted to be a part of."
Romero is expected to pitch on Saturday, and said he's used to logging 8-11 innings each Spring Training. He said he usually throws around 60 innings per season. Romero had surgery to repair a flexor tendon after 2009, and started the 2010 season on the disabled list. He said it took him a full two years to feel fully recovered. He's also lost some weight in the process, changed his training, and re-established himself.
"I feel real good," Romero said. "Being older also makes you understand the things you have to do. Before, when you're younger, you just wanna throw through a wall. When you get older, you start thinking about commanding your pitches and just pitching."
Ramos' quick recovery scrambles catching depth chart
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As Wilson Ramos' condition has improved, the Nationals' season-opening catching situation has grown murkier. As he and Kurt Suzuki have gotten to be on even footing, they've essentially become 1a and 1b on the depth chart.
Manager Davey Johnson sees no reason to change that, as Spring Training games turn to regular-season ones.
While Ramos has worked his way back from 2012 knee surgery, it was expected that Suzuki -- acquired in early August to take over the starting role -- would begin the season as the Nationals' starting catcher, at least until Ramos fully healed and could handle the daily grind behind the plate. But Ramos' recovery has been even speedier than expected, leaving Johnson with a conundrum as the team breaks camp soon.
"He may be a little bit behind, as far as the catching stuff -- and I thought also the medical staff would probably have him on some pretty good restrictions -- but they lifted those pretty quick," Johnson said of Ramos. "He's been basically on pretty much [the] same path that Suzuki's been on. I look at them both pretty much being on equal footing."
Ramos has appeared in 10 games this spring, batting .364 with a double and a run. Suzuki has played in 14, hitting .276 with a homer, three doubles and three RBIs.
"I can learn a lot from [Suzuki]," Ramos said. "He has a lot of experience in the big leagues. I don't have any problem playing with him. We can help the team together. The most important thing here is helping the team to win games."
Ramos' progression this spring has been steady, starting with catching bullpens, then blocking balls and sliding, and finding his way into game action. He's reached the point where he can catch a full game on back-to-back days, and Johnson intends to split the Nationals' final exhibition game on March 28 in Washington evenly between Suzuki and Ramos.
What's the plan from there?
"I plan basically to continue what we're doing this spring," Johnson said. "We'll see how it pans out. Last I checked, they're both hitting good and catching every other day. If it ain't broke, why do I gotta fix it?"
• In his first outing against Major League hitters since the World Baseball Classic, Gio Gonzalez threw 85 pitches in six innings, scattering four hits and allowing one run. He struck out three, dropping his ERA to 1.93 this spring.
The only damage came in the second, when John Buck walked to lead off the inning, advanced on a Lucas Duda single and scored on a sacrifice fly.
"It's still one of those starts where your arm feels a little tired, still working on stuff trying to get that arm strength," Gonzalez said. "By the time the season starts, hopefully I'll be right where I need to be."
• Reliever Drew Storen gave up a home run to Duda to lead off the seventh, and took the loss on Saturday. His final line was one run allowed -- the homer -- and a walk. He struck out two, and said his offspeed stuff was in good shape.
"That's usually the last thing to come in," Storen said. "But the main thing is, the fastball's been good. Just left a couple up. Now, it's a matter of just consistently being on top of it, and I'll be alright."
Storen, who has a 5.40 ERA this spring after giving up five runs in his last five innings of work, was working in the low 90s with his fastball. Johnson said that velocity isn't a concern at this point.
"It might worry him, but it doesn't worry me," Johnson said. "It's about him getting out there enough to where he starts feeling the ball with his breaking ball, his changeup. Power pitchers always in the spring need longer."
• The Nationals initially intended to have Ramos catch all nine innings on Saturday. But the heat -- temperatures in Port St. Lucie climbed into the upper-80s -- prompted Johnson to pull him a few innings early, also giving Carlos Maldonado some time behind the plate.
"I sweated a lot, it was pretty hot," Ramos said. "But I feel the same, it feels good. I'm ready to play more. … But it was another step for me, playing in the hot weather."
• The Nationals received former second-round and Rule 5 Draft pick Jeff Kobernus back from the Tigers on Saturday. The 24-year-old utilityman was in position to possibly make the Tigers' Opening Day roster as a bench player, but will return to Nationals' Minor League camp this week.
A Rule 5 pick for the Tigers in December, Kobernus was batting .220 with two triples and three RBIs in 50 Grapefruit League at-bats with Detroit.
The Tigers would have had to keep Kobernus on their 25-man active roster the entire season if they didn't return him to Washington. In sending him back, the Tigers will get half of the $50,000 they paid to get him.