Hanley Ramirez practices at first base
CHICAGO — The Red Sox started to untangle their poorly constructed roster on Tuesday afternoon when Hanley Ramirez worked out at first base. How quickly it leads to a game, nobody is quite sure.
Hatless and using a borrowed glove, Ramirez took footwork lessons from infield coach Brian Butterfield and that noted defensive stalwart, David Ortiz. The first day of class, which lasted 15 minutes, was pronounced a success.
“I’m not scared. I’m going for this and I can play,” Ramirez said.
Former general manager Ben Cherington signed Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million deal last winter with the belief the former shortstop could play left field. Ramirez proved to be the worst outfielder in the game, his play costing the Red Sox 19 runs based on one metric.
New president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said last week that it would be difficult for Ramirez to change positions before the year ends. But with the Red Sox preparing for next season, the decision was made to try it.
Dombrowski, Butterfield, manager John Farrell, and interim manager Torey Lovullo made the call late last week.
“I’m not exactly sure what changed,” Lovullo said before the Red Sox played the White Sox Tuesday night with Ramirez in left field. “I think all the good baseball conversations that we have led us down this road. Dave comes into our [the coaches’] office and we sit down and we talk baseball. We know he has his ears open.”
Lovullo said the idea of Ramirez playing first base was not broached when Cherington was in charge.
Ramirez is embracing the idea, at least for now.
“I’m really happy, man,” he said. “[Dombrowski] is doing the best he can to put a good team on the field. He’s trying to win. He’s trying to fix the pieces. What can we do to get better as a team?
“I’m happy with that. I came here to win. Nothing else. Nothing else. I just want to win. I can’t wait for that, being in first place.”
Ramirez said for weeks he wasn’t interested in first base. But through agent Adam Katz, the Red Sox broached the idea and found him willing.
“Anywhere. Anywhere, man,” Ramirez said. “I’ve been blessed. I can play anywhere. I can hit anywhere. I’m really happy that I can do that for a team.
“I can play first, second, third, short, left, center, right field. I can catch. I can leadoff, hit second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th. If the game is one-sided I can pitch. I’m really blessed.”
After the tutorial ended, Ramirez donned catcher’s gear and joked about getting behind the plate. A few hours later, when he went out to stretch with his teammates before batting practice, Ramirez carried three gloves out to the bench, making sure the reporters clustered around Lovullo took notice.
Ramirez’s poor play was only one factor. The continuing development of outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo suggests the Red Sox need to move Ramirez to another position or trade him.
“We do have some young talented outfielders that we want to get a look at and see what they’re capable of doing. They deserve that,” Lovullo said. “A lot of the components that you add up have us taking a look at what Hanley can do at first base.”
The goal is for Ramirez to play first base for at least a few games before the season ends.
Butterfield called Tuesday’s session more of a “chalk talk.” Ramirez was shown how to set his feet while catching throws from 20 feet away.
“We did a little bit of drilling. Basically breaking from the position in slow motion and getting to the bag,” Butterfield said. “Nothing throwing, just glove action and what he should do with his feet.”
Ortiz, who actually has good hands at first base, provided some advice.
Butterfield is one of the best infield coaches in the game, but this will be a challenge. Ramirez has never played first base and now weighs 230 pounds, well above his days as a shortstop.
“I think there are a lot of things that will translate to first base,” Butterfield said.
Lovullo said the schedule is malleable and no date has been set for Ramirez to play the position.
“To play in a major league game at first base, Hanley has be 100 percent comfortable,” Lovullo said. “He’s going to tell us when that time is. If he’s not, we’re looking to see what we can do for 2016. That’s the whole idea.”
The danger for the Red Sox is poor play at first base affects the rest of the infielders. Ramirez has to commit to working at the position, something he has not done in left field.
“We feel strongly that he could handle that. We feel like it’s worth exploring. We have a program we’re going to try and follow. We want to make sure we’re putting him in a good situation,” Lovullo said.
“He’ll play in a game if he’s ready. We’re not going to rush this. He’s going to continue to play left field for us. If something changes and we feel comfortable as a group, we’ll see how it looks over there.”