PHILADELPHIA -- Shortly after Wilson Ramos began the next chapter of his baseball career in an emphatic way, the Phillies' new catcher spoke fondly of the past.
Ramos couldn't help but reflect on the similarities between his three-hit, three-RBI Phillies debut and another memorable night in his career -- his Major League debut. Ramos collected four hits in his first MLB game back in May 2010, which marked the highlight of his initial, but brief, tenure with the Minnesota Twins. Ramos was traded to the Nationals later that summer, where he met a childhood hero whom he credits with shaping his career more than anyone else: Hall of Fame backstop Ivan Rodriguez.
"I always say it, I learned from the best catcher in history," Ramos said after he led the Phillies to a 7-4 win over the Red Sox. "I always keep that in mind. I think that's the reason I'm doing a good job in the big leagues."
As a young catcher growing up in Venezuela, Ramos said Rodriguez was his favorite player. He called the chance to learn from Rodriguez, whose everyday job he assumed later that season, "a dream come true."
"He showed me a lot behind the plate, how to call the game," Ramos said. "That's the experience I want to give to all these young pitchers [on the Phillies]."
It's that type of veteran presence the Phillies hope can benefit their talented, but inexperienced, core, and any defensive value Ramos provides -- like the impressive throw from his knees Ramos displayed to catch Brock Holt stealing Wednesday -- will be considered a plus. More than anything, the Phillies acquired Ramos from the Rays at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline with the hope that he'll continue to jolt an offense that lagged in recent weeks.
Over the last two seasons, among all catchers with at least 200 games behind the plate, Ramos ranks first in slugging, and second in average and OPS. He was arguably the most productive offensive catcher in baseball during the first half, leading all qualified backstops in hitting (.297), slugging (.488), home runs (14) and weighted on-base average (.358).
In 78 games total for the Rays, Ramos hit .297/.346/.488 with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs.
"Ramos has a proven track record of success on both sides of the ball, but specifically at the plate, he's been a real plus-offensive performer," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "So yeah, we can see him providing a significant boost to our lineup. … Our lineup is just a whole lot deeper."
Though confident Ramos' hamstring is fully healed, Kapler said he plans to ease Ramos into game action, hoping to find two days off per week for the 31-year-old.
"We're going to go slow about how we roll Ramos out," Kapler said. "See how his body responds."
Other factors are the Phillies' upcoming schedule -- they have a doubleheader Thursday against the Mets -- and Jorge Alfaro, who has emerged as one of baseball's top defensive catchers. The rookie, though, has struggled to keep his offensive production (82 OPS+) near league-average.
"To say he's losing his job is a pretty significant stretch," Kapler said of Alfaro. "He's got a lot to offer and is going to play as well. He's still a developing young core piece of our roster. ... We'll encourage him to pick the brain of Ramos constantly and continue to learn and develop."
Kapler said Andrew Knapp -- who was optioned to make room for Ramos -- will get reps all over the diamond at Triple-A, including at first base, third base and left field. Outside of a handful of starts at first, Knapp has been exclusively a catcher during his five-year professional career.
"We want to give him the opportunity to be as versatile as possible, be a bat off the bench and provide us a lot of flexibility on a playoff roster," Kapler said. "He's adored by our staff and our players, and he's got some extraordinary leadership characteristics."
Eflin returns, briefly
Four days after he was optioned to clear space for Justin Bour on the active roster, Zach Eflin was back in the Phillies clubhouse prepping to start the second game of Thursday's doubleheader against the Mets. Under normal circumstances, Eflin wouldn't be eligible to return until Tuesday. But because of the doubleheader and two off-days on the Phillies' schedule, he can be activated as the 26th man for Thursday and then complete his 10-day option without missing any starts.
Kapler met with Eflin for breakfast in Philadelphia recently to explain the temporary demotion, which wasn't based on performance and will ultimately cost the 24-year-old nine days of service time and big league pay. The right-hander owns a 3.20 ERA since June 1 and is 8-4 with a 3.57 ERA in 16 starts overall.
"At the end of the day, we all understand the move, but this wasn't too easy to swallow. All you can do is be positive and move forward and use it as motivation," Eflin said. "It's easy to focus on losing service time or losing money, but the only thing I've been worried about the whole time is being away from my teammates. Losing those days of relationships in the middle of a pennant race, that's what affected me the most. I could care less about the money I missed."
The Phillies won't need to make a corresponding roster move to activate Eflin or return him to the Minors, but they will need to make one to recall rookie Ranger Suarez, who will start Game 1 of Thursday's doubleheader. The assignment will mark the second big league start for Suarez, the club's No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline.