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Red Sox eye offensive spark; is Hanley it?

DH struggling, especially vs. lefties, but is intent on going on a hot streak
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- When the Red Sox get Hanley Ramirez back from a three-game absence on Thursday night, the hope is that the slugger can start laying the groundwork for another mid- to late-season surge.

This is about more than Ramirez doing what is expected of him. It is also about an offense, which was held to an RBI groundout in Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Twins, that hasn't reached its potential yet.

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BOSTON -- When the Red Sox get Hanley Ramirez back from a three-game absence on Thursday night, the hope is that the slugger can start laying the groundwork for another mid- to late-season surge.

This is about more than Ramirez doing what is expected of him. It is also about an offense, which was held to an RBI groundout in Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Twins, that hasn't reached its potential yet.

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In 2017, Ramirez is slashing .241/.341/.406 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are 14th among MLB's 30 teams in runs scored, 27th in homers and 20th in slugging. That is unfamiliar territory for a team that led the league in many offensive categories last year.

Video: MIN@BOS: Bogaerts plates Leon on groundout to short

"Just one click and you go from there," said Ramirez. "Like I say, I'm not going to stop working. I'm going to get hot."

There have been short spurts when Ramirez has taken some big swings, but nothing sustainable like the second half of last season, when he carried the Red Sox at times.

If Ramirez -- who missed the last three games after getting hit in the left knee by a pitch -- can get going, it could have a ripple effect on the entire lineup.

On Wednesday, as the Red Sox went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, it became clear how much an impactful Ramirez would make a difference.

In the third and seventh innings with rallies in progress, Mitch Moreland struck out against a lefty. This is no slight against Moreland, who has had a fine first season in Boston.

Video: MIN@BOS: Rogers whiffs Moreland to end the threat

But Moreland's role is to start against righties, with Ramirez filling in for him against most lefties.

"I've got to get going because I crush lefties," said Ramirez.

Strangely, Ramirez hasn't done much of anything against southpaws so far this season.

In 45 plate appearances versus lefties, Ramirez has just five hits, all singles. He is slashing .143/.333/.229 with one homer and three RBIs against southpaws.

"What am I hitting against lefties right now?" Ramirez asked a reporter.

When told the data, he said, "That's not me. That can't happen. For real? You're kidding me. It took you long enough to tell me that? I didn't know that -- for real."

Ramirez said he would put that newfound knowledge into his mind as motivation.

"So OK, let's see now, after this conversation, let's see what's going to happen now," Ramirez said. "Come back to me in August."

One concern is that discomfort in both of Ramirez's shoulders has limited his production. Ramirez offered some good news on that front.

"Honestly, it's feeling better now. It started feeling better now than earlier in the year," Ramirez said. "I can use that top hand. I was dropping the head of the bat. I was losing that and I was talking to [hitting coaches] Chili [Davis] and Victor [Rodriguez] about that. I've got to be able to use that top hand. Like Jim Rice."

Video: LAA@BOS: Ramirez goes the other way for 250th homer

After a decent first three months of the season last year, Ramirez went off from July 1 on, hitting .300 with 22 homers, 66 RBIs and a .988 OPS.

"I think the second half is coming and I'm ready for that," Ramirez said.

The Red Sox are ready also. A hot Ramirez would give the lineup another dimension.

"I think the one thing that we as an organization, and me personally, can't turn away from is this guy had his best year, career-wise, from an offense standpoint a year ago," said Red Sox manager John Farrell.

This isn't to put it all on Ramirez. Not by any means. Others must reach their levels also.

Dustin Pedroia has just two homers this season, as he's been beaten up by a series of injuries. Mookie Betts has 12 homers and 41 RBIs, but hasn't had the type of torrid stretch he had multiple times en route to his second-place finish in the AL MVP race last year. Xander Bogaerts is hitting for average (.316) but not power (five homers).

And the Red Sox have gotten hardly any production at third base.

Yet here they are, tied with the Yankees for first place in the American League East.

"Yeah, it seems like we've had some runs where it was going good and then some where we were kind of scrapping and crawling to make something happen," said Moreland. "Everybody knows what we're capable of in here. We're going to continue to work and build on that and try to hit one of those long runs and ride it out."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez