Never mind that Hanley Ramirez has a lengthy history of injuries to his left shoulder. It’s the aftermath of those injuries that hovers ominously over both the slugger and the Red Sox right now.
The Sox are hopeful that, after suffering a left shoulder sprain while plowing into the wall by the left field grandstand at Fenway Park on Monday, Ramirez might be able to avoid the disabled list, though they’ll need to reserve judgment on that point. Still, even if he’s in the lineup, there’s no guarantee Ramirez will be able to swing with the same authority upon his return that he has through the first four weeks of the season.
Along with his exceptional balance and the torque he generates on his swing, the left shoulder – the front shoulder – is at the heart of what Ramirez does as a hitter. Last week, he described the central role played by his front shoulder in his approach as a hitter, including the finish to his swing that permits him to generate enormous bat speed.
Ramirez suffered a separated shoulder in late 2011 that ultimately required offseason surgery. To that point in his career, despite a career-worst 2011 season, he’d been a career .306 hitter. The next season, however, he hit .257 with a .322 OBP and .437 slugging mark while striking out a career-high 132 times.
“I always considered myself a .300 hitter. I’ve done that a couple of times. But after I got that surgery on my left shoulder, everything changed,” Ramirez said last week. “I had to adjust to my shoulder. It didn’t feel like normal after that, so I had to put a lot of work on it. I don’t know what I consider myself after that, but I just keep fighting every day to find a way for that shoulder to be comfortable so I can be successful.”
Ramirez said that in his experience, along with that of former teammates such as Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp, during the recovery from injuries to the front shoulder, their approaches as hitters changed. They struggled to get full extension to drive the complete array of pitches that they’d attacked prior to the injury. It wasn’t until 2013, Ramirez said, that he was able to get his shoulder back to the point where he felt like himself at the plate.
“A lot of people don’t know [how important the front shoulder is for a hitter’s approach],” said Ramirez. “But I knew it, and knew it was going to take a lot of work, concentration, and focus on that shoulder to be successful.”
Of course, Ramirez’s current injury – a sprain, with the possibility of avoiding a trip to the DL – appears to be in a separate category from the shoulder injury he suffered in 2011. Still, the fact that Ramirez’s status was initially defined as day-to-day in the aftermath of that injury with the Marlins but ultimately cost him the final two months of the season underscores the fact that there is more information for the Red Sox and player to glean.
The Sox, of course, hope that they’ve avoided a worst-case scenario. But even if Ramirez gets back in the lineup in the coming days, it may take some time for all parties to determine whether he will be able to serve as the same kind of force going forward that he’s been to this point in the young season.
Perhaps the injury is limited to inflammation, with no structural damage, thus placing Ramirez in a separate category from, for instance, Dustin Pedroia, whose production in 2013 and 2014 was sabotaged by injuries that required surgery. If that’s the case, then there’s a chance that he’ll be able to resume life as a cleanup-hitting wrecking ball.
But there is an element of the unknown with Ramirez’s shoulder, regardless of how quickly he’s back in the lineup. And until he has been back for a time, it will be impossible to assess the true impact of the injury.
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