NEW YORK — Wilson Ramos was dealing with left wrist pain during the final week of spring training, but the Nationals had no reason to believe at the time it would lead to a broken hamate bone.
“You don’t know,” manager Matt Williams said. “It manifests itself sometimes as wrist pain. You don’t think about it, because you don’t get that spot necessarily. We don’t know whether it started out as a stress fracture or whatever. It oftentimes manifests itself as wrist pain, so you deal with the wrist. It’s rough to go through something like that, but what can he do now except rehab and get back, and he’s focused on that.”
Ramos had surgery Wednesday to remove the broken hamate bone, which flared up during Monday’s season opener against the Mets. The typical timetable for players returning from that procedure is 4-to-8 weeks, but Williams said he believes Ramos can be back in 4-to-6 weeks.
Williams noted that Josh Johnson, a minor-league infielder who was in big-league camp this spring, had surgery for a broken hamate bone during the last week of February and is now back playing, offering a rough timetable for Ramos’ recovery.
Despite initial speculation that Ramos hurt himself on a foul tip while catching in the bottom of the sixth inning Monday, it appears he was already hurt late in spring training. He was held out of a couple of Grapefruit League games last week and wore an ice pack around the left wrist on more than one occasion.
Ramos, though, told coaches and doctors he felt better and was in the lineup hitting cleanup on Opening Day. But he didn’t look right on one swing in the top of the seventh and was pulled after that, with concern growing. Williams said after the game that initial X-rays were negative but that Ramos would be seeing a specialist, who on Tuesday confirmed the broken hamate bone and performed surgery Wednesday.
The timeline of events raise the question of whether the Nationals could have done anything sooner to prevent the break. Williams, though, insists they couldn’t.
“I don’t know how you do,” he said. “How do you avoid that? If, in fact, he’s got a fracture in there, it’s going to take some time anyway. And the indications weren’t that it was a hamate, it was more a wrist. So we gave him toward the end of spring training a little bit of time off, and he felt OK. But two days ago, his third at-bat, he just couldn’t do it anymore. And then at that point, all indications from the manual exam was that it was the hamate. So that’s why we got a further test.”
Hamate bone breaks are common for baseball players and golfers. The bone sits at the outside base of the wrist and presses against the knob of the bat every time a player swings. Over time, that pressure can result in a fracture, at which point the bone (which is not necessary) is removed altogether.
Several members of the Nationals had the surgery earlier in their careers, including Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. All said their recovery process was smooth and relatively quick.
“Everyone’s different, but it’s not one of those things that’s a terrible surgery,” said Zimmerman, who had his surgery during the 2007 offseason. “You just have to do the rehab, get your strength back and range of motion and then start hitting. That’s really the only way to get the strength back, to hit. … When you first start hitting, you’re tentative, like anytime something like that happens and you come back. But if I remember, it came back pretty quick.”
Desmond initially broke his hamate bone early in 2008, when he was in the minor leagues. At the time, doctors decided not to remove the bone but to treat it and let him try to play. Desmond played the rest of the season in some discomfort, then really felt pain in April 2009, at which point the bone was finally removed. He wound up enjoying a breakout season, ending with his big-league debut in Washington.
“After it, I hit perfectly fine,” he said. “That was the year I made it to the big leagues, and I had a great September, was hitting homers. I don’t understand how people can correlate lack of power with hamate bone being taken out. The only part it’s affecting is just resting the knob of your bat right there. I think ‘The Buffalo’ is strong enough to overcome it.”
With Ramos out at least a month, Jose Lobaton becomes the Nationals’ top catcher, with the just-recalled Sandy Leon backing him up. Williams said he’s not sure exactly how playing time will be split between the two.
“I think it’s a day-to-day process,” the manager said. “Sandy certainly played well during spring training. I first and foremost love his defensive prowess. I think it’s important for our club. I think he had a great winter ball, and from my understanding in talking to our staff, he has made some really nice improvements offensively from a year ago.”