Hearts of Nationals fans everywhere were broken when it was made clear that Wilson Ramos would not be returning to the Nationals for the 2017 season. The catcher lovingly nicknamed “The Buffalo” was in the last year of his contract, suffered a torn ACL near the end of the season, and ended up signing with the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason. So the question remained: who could replace the fan-favorite coming off the best season of his career?
Enter Matt Wieters, the four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner. Wieters spent the last eight years up the beltway with the Baltimore Orioles and was signed late in the offseason. There were a number of questions to be answered coming out of Spring Training: Would his limited spring training time affect his production at the plate? Would he have enough time to get familiar with the pitching staff? Would he be able to fill the hole left by Ramos?
So far, Wieters has answered every question splendidly. In his first series as a Nat, Wieters went 4-for-8 with two RBI, one run scored, and three walks. Not a bad way to introduce yourself to the new home crowd. Any bitter Buffalo-related feelings were pushed to the side and replaced with a lust for offensive production. For awhile, just like the rest of the team, Wieters got off to a hot offensive start. He wasn’t hitting bombs like Bryce Harper or causing mayhem on the basepaths like Adam Eaton and Trea Turner, but he was hitting on a consistent basis and giving his team a chance to score. Before the most recent road trip, Wieters hit .314 with a .415 on-base percentage and .929 OPS. His numbers have tapered off a little since then, as his totals come to a .275 average with one home run, six RBI, six runs scored, and seven walks.
Wieters seems to be settling into his new home at Nationals Park pretty nicely. In home games, he’s hit .333, with five of his six RBI coming in front of the home crowd, as opposed to a .208 average on the road. He’s also proven himself to be good in the clutch. With runners in scoring position, Wieters is hitting .500 with five RBI, and with the bases loaded he is hitting .667 with three RBI. Have we warmed up to Wieters yet?
Arguably the most important part of Wieters’ game (and sometimes the most overlooked part) is how well he’s worked with the pitching staff. Yes, the bullpen is still working its way out of the mud, but the starters have settled in nicely. Wieters, despite a limited preseason with the team, has learned the pitching styles of the staff and has made a smooth transition into being the regular batterymate. Perhaps there’s something behind the backstop being an All-Star and Gold Glover that allows the pitchers to relax and trust their partner.
The starting rotation has taken to Wieters quite well: of the four primary starters this season so far, Gio Gonzalez has a 1.35 ERA, Max Scherzer has a 1.37 ERA, Stephen Strasburg has a 2.89 ERA, and Tanner Roark has a 3.65 ERA (though it should be noted that in one of Strasburg’s four starts and two of Roark’s four starts, they were pitching to Jose Lobaton). This is already a big improvement upon Wieters’ work with the Orioles’ pitching staff, whose lowest starter’s ERA in 2016 was Kevin Gausman at 3.61, and who only had one starter with a winning record by the end of the season (Chris Tillman, 16-6). This is due in part to the superiority of the Nationals’ rotation, but the Nats’ results this season are a credit to the work of Wieters with his pitching staff, as the rotation could have gone off the walls after working with Ramos since 2010.
So there will be no more chants of “Wilson!” throughout Nationals Park, there will be no more buffalo horns, and Ramos’s ceremonial first pitch before Game 1 will remain his final official appearance in a Nationals uniform. But the seasoned veteran Wieters has filled that vacancy well, even if it takes some fans awhile to get used to cheering for a recent ex-Oriole.Tags: Matt Wieters, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals