Hot-hitting Hanley deserves some of LA spotlight
While Puig has stolen the headlines, the Dodgers shortstop has been on fire
PHOENIX -- Lost in the commotion surrounding the emergence of Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig has been the sudden resurgence of Hanley Ramirez.
"A little bit," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said on Monday night. "But not with our guys, we see it every day. He's just hitting balls on the nose all the time."
The Dodgers shortstop is on a career-high 19-game hitting streak and gargantuan 36-for-74 tear. He was 3-for-5 in a 6-1 Dodgers victory over the D-backs at Chase Field. Not so coincidentally, the Dodgers have won 13 of their last 16 to pull within two games of .500 and 3 1/2 games of first place Arizona in the National League West.
Ramirez looks like the Hanley of old in the days when he graced the Marlins' infield. Together with Puig, the tandem has given the Dodgers a different texture and dynamic than the team that struggled to play 23-30 ball through the month of May.
Puig was then brought up from the Minor Leagues when Matt Kemp strained a hamstring. Ramirez came back from his second stint on the disabled list. The team has been playing gangbusters ever since. Ramirez is hitting .419 and Puig .409.
The Dodgers have never had a player with at least 100 at-bats hitting .400 at the All-Star break, which is now just six days away. There's a chance that they might have two with each player already well over the century at-bat mark.
It's an odd couple. Puig, the 22-year-old Cuban rookie is loud and ebullient, pointing at the highlights of a baseball game on one of the big-screen TVs in the clubhouse and chattering in Spanish. Ramirez, the 29-year-old Dominican native and nine-year Major League veteran is circumspect even though at times he still shows that sly smile and twinkle in his eyes.
"Hanley is the one I look up to," the new Dodgers right fielder said through an interpreter after he had two singles in five at-bats against the D-backs. "We work together in the batting cage. We work together on the field. I just thank God that he's helping me get adjusted. So is Adrian Gonzalez, so is Matt Kemp."
While Puig is adjusting to the big leagues and life in the U.S., Ramirez has had his own issues. Not too many years ago he had lengthy surgery to repair his left shoulder. Just as he rounded into shape this spring as a key member of the victorious Dominican Republic team that swept through the World Baseball Classic, he dove for a grounder early in the title game against Puerto Rico on the wet turf at AT&T Park and tore a ligament in his right thumb. After surgery, he missed more than a month, returning just in time to strain his left hamstring. All told, he missed 52 games with the two injuries.
Asked to explain his seemingly sudden return to form, Ramirez said simply, "I feel healthy."
"I feel good and that's the key," he added. "My body feels good and I'm happy. I've got the support of my teammates."
Ramirez said it took two years for him to rebound from the shoulder surgery, which is what Kemp is going through now. The Dodgers center fielder slammed into a wall this past September chasing a fly ball and he hasn't been the same since offseason shoulder surgery. He's also had three disabling hamstring injuries in the past year. This weekend in San Francisco, Kemp swung and missed at a pitch and grabbed at that left shoulder. Although the initial prognosis was good, he was placed back on the DL on Monday and headed to Los Angeles for a more thorough examination.
Mattingly said the Dodgers are hoping that the latest injury isn't related to the surgery. "But then I didn't think this would put him back on the DL, either," he said.
Ramirez can relate.
"Mine was seven hours worth of surgery," he said, "It was tighter than it was, so I had to get used to a different swing. Now, thank God, it is 100 percent."
The Marlins traded Ramirez to the Dodgers as a precursor to breaking up their team this past July 25. Explaining the move at the time, Marlins president David Samson said the front office had determined that the club couldn't win with the All-Star shortstop in the clubhouse.
Mattingly said he heard all that chatter, but has never seen that side of Ramirez.
"You know, you hear this stuff before, but from the day he walked into our locker room in St. Louis that day, he's been nothing but a model citizen," Mattingly said. "He's great to talk to. He's really smart, a great, great player. To me, he's easy to deal with."
Ramirez said that Mattingly's message to him from Day 1 was a positive one.
"Since I got here, the first thing Mattingly told me was to have fun and play hard," Ramirez said. "So that's what I've been doing."
And has he settled in. Despite the similar offensive numbers to Puig, there was no All-Star chatter around Ramirez. No inclusion in the Final Vote. Ramirez said he's done his best to help Puig, but none of that should be overstated, either.
"Just let him play. Everybody around here loves him," Ramirez said. "Just go out there and do what he's supposed to do every day and help the ballclub win games. He doesn't need my advice. He's a great player. He knows what he needs to do to be successful."
Ramirez has certainly been there. Puig may be the attention getter, right now, but don't mistake the impact Ramirez is making within that sizable shadow.