The good news is Hanley Ramirez has been a good teammate, a good power hitter, and he’s remained healthy over the first 11 games.
The bad news is left field. As in, how he’s played it.
The most positive thing we can say is he’s tried hard.
He worked out all winter at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, which has a high wall. He worked hard at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, the Fenway replica. But all the hard work has not left us with much of an impression of Ramirez the left fielder.
Some of his plays remind us of Manny Ramirez. Even Manny eventually learned the wall. He eventually learned about those balls that floated toward the foul line. They are tough balls to judge, and it feels to the outfielder as if the railing is about to whack him in the face.
The last thing Ramirez wants is to run into a wall and hurt himself, with his long injury history. But tentative as he might be approaching the foul line, he can’t let those balls fall in.
That’s what happened in the fourth inning Saturday afternoon when Jimmy Paredes hit a ball down the line. Ramirez was very tentative about going full bore for the ball and it dropped in for a double, setting up the Orioles’ two-run inning.
In the fifth, Paredes hit one toward the wall. Ramirez made a small leap, but the ball hit in his glove and dropped out. The play was ruled a single, but Ramirez should have made the play.
Clay Buchholz has enough trouble getting out of his own way these days, but Ramirez did nothing to help him in a 4-1 loss to the Orioles.
Positional changes are always difficult. In this case Ramirez is moving off shortstop after playing there for the first nine years of his career. There are many nuances about playing left field, especially at Fenway, that Ramirez is going to be learning on the fly.
But you would think a shortstop could play well in an athletic way. But it’s hardly been that.
It’s been awkward.
The Red Sox proposed the positional change when they were negotiating with him. No team really thought Ramirez could play short anymore. Teams were considering him as a third baseman, but even that was a stretch.
The Red Sox figured that left field would help his body stay healthy. He would get fewer chances, wouldn’t have the same physical demands that he had at shortstop.
Ben Cherington’s words at Ramirez’s press conference were that he didn’t expect Ramirez’s first year would be perfect out there. He was right.
So you put up with a faux pas or two to take advantage of his bat. But what if the mistakes start costing you games? There’s no other obvious position for Ramirez to play on the Red Sox. He can’t go back to short, where Xander Bogaerts will likely man the position for years. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval signed a five-year deal. Ramirez could become the DH if David Ortiz retires.
So the hope is he gets better, feels more comfortable, and uses the athleticism he’s shown at shortstop in the outfield.
When you listen to Ramirez and manager John Farrell speak about the two balls hit to left by Paredes, you’d swear you just watched a different game entirely.
Ramirez insisted the ball in the fifth inning hit off the wall first. Replays did not support that view. It supported the view that Ramirez jumped and the ball hit him in the heel of the glove and fell out.
“Hit the wall. The ball hit the wall and then hit my glove,” said Ramirez, who insisted he saw a replay that showed that.
“Just got to come back tomorrow and win the game,” Ramirez said. “We’re not too concerned about it. Keep working every day out there. Nothing to be concerned about right now.”
As for the ball down the line in the fourth inning, after a few replays, we will give him the benefit of the doubt.
“We were slanted toward the gap,” said Ramirez, who said he was also dealing with wind. “You’ve got to read it and he [Paredes] put a good spin on the ball. Wind blew that ball that way. We weren’t pitching the line, we were playing toward the gap.”
Farrell said there have been balls where Ramirez “might have been caught in-between, particularly the carom off the wall. He went back in good shape, but the ball hit the heel of the glove.”
Farrell said he expected a breaking-in period for Ramirez. He noted that the wall at JetBlue is different than the wall at Fenway. It certainly is; the caroms are different for sure.
“We knew it was going to be a transition. There’s work to be done because the wall here is different than Fort Myers. But there’s nothing alarming. The more he plays, the more comfortable he’s going to get,” Farrell said.
Ramirez also had a tough day at the plate, 0 for 4 with a strikeout and double play. He is hitting .233, but that’s the least of anyone’s worries.
There have been rough spots, but everyone expected them.
Ramirez will not go down with Craig Biggio or Robin Yount as making those seamless transitions to the outfield. This one is going to have a few rough edges. You would think that Ramirez at some point will be replaced in close games for a better defensive player. But for now you can tell Farrell and others are in nothing-but-positive mode when it comes to Ramirez’s defense. They don’t want to upset the apple cart.
Nothing alarming, said Farrell.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.