Hanley Ramirez slow to warm to task as David Ortiz’ replacement at DH
Maybe being a full-time designated hitter isn’t as easy as David Ortiz made it look.
Through the first 19 games of this season, the Red Sox have missed the big-bat presence of the now-retired Ortiz. They’re sitting at a measly 11 homers, two fewer than any other team in baseball. And while that was OK when the Red Sox were converting on scoring chances, a slow week dropped them to 18th in the majors at just 4.05 runs per game.
The new DH, Hanley Ramirez, finally hit his first home run of the season in Sunday’s 6-2 win in Baltimore, but his average remains a paltry .210. His .580 OPS out of the 4-hole ranks him 15th among the 19 players with at least 50 plate appearances from the cleanup spot.
“It’s different,” Ramirez said when talking about his new role. “I have to stay loose. . . . It’s a little bit tougher, but little by little I get used to it.”
Ramirez shouldn’t be considered a failure as Ortiz’ replacement just yet. With only 19 games in the books, more than 88 percent of the season still remains. And it’s not at all unusual for longtime position players to struggle in their first chances as a full-time DH.
Shin-Soo Choo is going through the same thing with the Texas Rangers, and in the offseason he made his feelings clear when he told MLB.com, “I am not ready for full-time DH.” He is hitting .236 with one homer in 16 games.
An old friend of the Red Sox, Victor Martinez, struggled out of the gate in 2011, when he moved on to Detroit and became a full-time DH for the Tigers. He hit just .250 with two home runs in April, but quickly got on track and finished the year with a .330 average and 103 RBI.
Alex Rodriguez and Nelson Cruz became impact bats immediately upon transitioning to a full-time DH role. For Ramirez, who had just 36 games at DH prior to this year, it’s taking time to get used to the job.
“It’s the first time I’m doing it full time,” Ramirez said. “It’s not going to be good from the beginning. You have to adjust to the little things that I’ve been able to get used to.”
Ramirez was in a 1-for-19 slump prior to Sunday’s first-inning blast, which gave the Red Sox back-to-back homers after Mookie Betts had hit a three-run shot, and was providing little impact from a spot in the order in which the Sox need him to provide protection for Betts.
“Honestly, I just want everyone around me to get hot,” Ramirez said. “And that makes it easy. So, I say that because . . . your teammates make it easier on you. But it feels good (to hit my first homer), to be able to get to that pitch that they’ve been throwing me a lot, front-door breaking balls. I made an adjustment right there.”
The batters who sandwich Ramirez have been hot. Betts is hitting .390 with a 1.079 OPS over his last 10 games and Moreland, who hit his second homer of the season Sunday, is leading the majors with 11 doubles.
Ramirez has yet to provide the kind of threat in the middle of the lineup that Ortiz did for years. He’s not putting that kind of pressure on himself.
“Not at all,” Ramirez said. “No, no, no. You know me, I don’t think. When I’m out there, I don’t think. I just, I don’t know, I’m maybe a little bit tired or whatever, I don’t care. But I have to keep working. No excuses. I try to keep the young guys with their head up. That’s one of the little things I’m able to do in here for the young guys.”
Ramirez said it’s harder to get a good pitch to hit without Ortiz in the lineup.
“A little bit,” he said. “And it makes it worse when you’re chasing. Even worse. … All we have to do is leave it to the next guy.”
Manager John Farrell said he’s not concerned with Ramirez’ slow start.
“We’ve seen it before from Hanley,” Farrell said. “I don’t think we should focus on one guy because if you look at the middle of the order of late, we’ve come up a little bit dry.”
Farrell said nobody in the clubhouse has even mentioned Ortiz’ name. Everyone has moved on — but their offense has yet to.
“It goes in cycles,” Farrell said. “I’m confident we’ll hit our fair share of home runs before it’s all said and done.”