FORT MYERS, Fla. — Who’s on first?
Not Hanley Ramirez. Not yet, anyway. But he says he still wants to go back there.
The offseason blueprint for the post-Ortiz Red Sox calls for Ramirez to serve as DH against righthanded starters while lefty-swinging Mitch Moreland plays first base. On days when lefties start (there are a lot of them around), the Sox plan to put Ramirez at first while Chris Young DHs.
Manager John Farrell also hopes to use the southpaw days to spell some of his everyday starters while Ramirez plays first.
Unfortunately, Ramirez says his right shoulder is bothering him when he throws, and he hasn’t raised his hand to play first all spring. The Sox open the season Monday at Fenway Park against the Pirates, and Farrell sounds as though he has all but given up trying Ramirez at first in Florida.
I caught up with Ramirez in the visitors’ clubhouse at Ed Smith Stadium Monday morning and asked him about the situation.
“It was bothering me to throw,’’ he said. “Still a little bit.’’
When do you think you can play first base?
“That’s the thing. I don’t know.’’
Do you think it’s better if you just don’t play there because it might hurt the shoulder? You’ve been hitting down here (.300/.897 OPS).
“Exactly. I don’t want to bother my hitting.’’
Do you plan to go back to first?
“Oh, yeah. It should get better. I don’t know what’s going on at first.’’
I think they want to sit Moreland against lefties and put you at first. Do you think that’s going to happen?
“Yeah. If I’m healthy, yeah. If I can throw the ball, yeah.’’
But it’s not like you don’t want to go back over there, right?
“No, not me. I’m a Gold Glover. Nobody should say that. I love it over there.’’
When can fans expect to see you back at first?
“Fans want to see me hit bombs. So that’s why I’m not out there. Because every time I was trying to throw, it bothered my hitting a little bit, and so we decided to make sure the thing is ready.’’
But you didn’t have this problem last year, right?
“I had it a little bit at the end of the season last year. From when I ran into that wall two years ago.’’
Sox fans know that history. Ramirez tried playing left field in 2015 after he signed with Boston, and he struggled there. He injured his shoulder crashing into a Fenway wall and hit only .249 with 19 homers and 53 RBIs before he was shut down for the final month of the season. The Sox moved him to first base last year, and he rebounded, hitting .286 with 30 homers and 111 RBIs.
Now the Sox want him at DH . . . but only against righty starters.
“That’s the plan, and I’m still hopeful of it, but without being cleared, I can’t write him in the lineup,’’ Farrell said Monday.
Cleared? Is that “cleared” by the Sox medical team or by Ramirez?
“A combination,’’ the manager said. “There’s the work he’s doing in the training room and the attempts that he’s made to get his arm moving and get some consistent throwing program under way.’’
Without Ramirez, the backups at first base are Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge.
“I’m still with the intent that Hanley is going to be at first base at some points,’’ Farrell said. “Ideally, that would be if we see a lefty starter in the Detroit series [April 7-10].’’
Red Sox baseball boss Dave Dombrowski said: “It’s still possible. We’re still hopeful.’’
When I told Dombrowski that Ramirez is worried that throwing might affect his hitting, Dombrowski said: “It’s really the same as it was last year, his shoulder, in many ways. We’ll just have to wait and see.
“Are we hopeful he’ll be out there? Yes. I can’t give you a date or anything.
“If it doesn’t happen, we’ll just have to make adjustments from there. I don’t know that it’s going to affect our roster. It’s going to affect some playing time for certain people.’’
The post-Ortiz Red Sox will score a lot of runs this year. They erupted for nine runs in a single inning Monday against the Orioles in Sarasota. But until Ramirez returns to first, they are diminished offensively.