CLEVELAND -- José Ramírez has been in this position before. The Indians’ third baseman has developed a knack for delivering when his team needs him most. And after the club received a blow Monday morning, learning that ace Shane Bieber would be out for at least a few weeks, Ramírez was ready to show that he’s prepared to rise to the challenge once again.
At the time, it was a much-needed insurance run, but Ramírez’s RBI double in the sixth became the difference-maker in the Indians’ 4-3 victory over the Orioles on Monday night at Progressive Field.
“It’s kind of a kick in the stomach when you hear that about Bieber,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And we’re asking a lot of young guys to do things that maybe they haven’t done before: pitching on short rest, starting a game but not being terribly stretched out. But at least if we pull in the right direction all together, I always feel like we’ll figure it out. And it’s a good feeling when you feel that way as a ballclub.”
Ramírez has proven time and time again that he’s built for the spotlight. According to Baseball Reference, he hit .359 with a 1.220 OPS in high-leverage situations so far this season entering the series opener against Baltimore. Fans watched him almost single-handedly pull the Indians out of their eight-game losing streak last September to assure they earned a spot in the playoffs. And now, the team needs him more than ever.
The rotation had its holes prior to Bieber’s injury, but the ace’s absence takes those problems to another level. While it’s expected that the pitching staff will hit its fair share of bumps in the road, considering most of the hurlers have very little Major League experience, the offense will need to help carry more weight. And with Franmil Reyes out with an internal oblique strain, Ramírez will be the one the team turns to.
“He’s the guy that you want up in the big spots,” Indians reliever Nick Sandlin said. “Some other people have really picked it up as of late, and there’s maybe a little less pressure on him. But when he came up tonight and put together that really good at-bat there in the sixth inning, it’s not shocking anything he does at any point. He’s just a great hitter.”
As if the team didn’t need him before, Ramírez’s role is even more critical now. And it couldn’t be coming at a better time for the third baseman. Over his past 11 games, Ramírez is hitting .381 (16-for-42) with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs. He’s been the backbone of the majority of the team’s wins, as he’s hit .315 with 14 homers and 35 RBIs in Cleveland's 35 victories, as opposed to .221 with just three RBIs in the club's 28 losses.
“I have a big confidence in all of [my teammates],” Indians starter J.C. Mejía said. “But especially José. We know he's a star, an All-Star, and especially when there are men on base, he has a really good approach to bring the runs in.”
For a team that will need to get creative with its pitching plans, having some consistency on the other side of the ball with Ramírez’s bat would be warmly welcomed. Francona has hinted at the fact that the team will be trying different strategies to fill the four vacancies in the rotation beyond Aaron Civale, and he noted after Monday’s game that those plans may include having starters get pulled a little early to be able to work on short rest, indicating that Mejía could pitch again on Friday after his four innings against the Orioles.
“We’re going to have to play it by ear every night,” Francona said. “If a guy’s rolling and we stay with him, that’s OK, too. We’ll have to know that he’s not going to be available for a while. If we can keep some of these guys -- like a [Cal] Quantrill, where we don’t have to go five days -- it’s going to be a lot of communication. We’re going to need a lot of honesty from them and see if we can make it work.”