J-Ram must grin and bear it no longer

After dealing with thumb injury that was worse than reported, Ramírez is healthy and upbeat

February 28th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Only can bring a regular-season type of energy to a Spring Training clubhouse.

Spring is always relaxed. Knowing that the final score of these games doesn’t impact playoff chances, players are often calm, cool and collected during this time of year. Instead, the Guardians’ clubhouse was loud on Sunday morning -- all because of Ramírez.

It’s 7:45 a.m., and most guys are walking into the room, getting settled in for the day. But Ramírez was already dressed in his workout attire, yelling from his locker at anyone in sight -- an energy that hadn’t been seen yet this spring.

You didn’t have to look at the lineup to know he was back in game action. This is the energy that Ramírez constantly brings, whether it’s February or August.

After an off-day on Monday, he was the same Tuesday morning before a 12-6 loss to the Royals in his second Cactus League contest at Goodyear Ballpark. The other half of his team fell 9-8 to the Mariners in Peoria. 

“He can’t help it,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I mean, shoot man, he’s one of the best baseball players. He’s a great teammate. He checks off every box there is.”

That enthusiasm is a constant for Ramírez, even when it got hard for him to remain in the lineup last year -- harder than any of us knew.

After the 2022 season ended, it was revealed that Ramírez’s right thumb injury was much more severe than the team indicated earlier in the year. He was presented the option to undergo surgery in June, but he pushed it off until the winter.

“We found new ways to keep going, keep playing, even though that meant doing a lot of extra things, but luckily we were able to pull through,” Ramírez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero.

The difference in his performance before and after the injury was drastic:

Through June 17 (60 games): .305 average, 1.039 OPS, 62 RBIs, 16 homers, 20 doubles, four triples, 20 strikeouts

After June 17 (97 games): .264 average, .766 OPS, 64 RBIs, 13 homers, 24 doubles, one triple, 62 strikeouts

Some of his coaches remembered how badly he’d wince at times on the bench after walking back from the batter’s box. Ramírez admitted that the injury affected every part of his game, including his power, defense and baserunning.

“It’s very, very difficult,” Ramírez said. “I just thank God for enabling me to play because it’s very frustrating that sometimes you want to do things and you’re not able to, so your game gets a little bit limited.”

With Ramírez in Guardians camp after opting against participating in the World Baseball Classic to focus on his health, the focus can shift to 2023. And there are already multiple indicators that this could be another big year.

First, he’s healthy. He showed last year how difficult it is to perform without being at full strength. Secondly, the shift won’t be limiting his results. We’ve seen a four-man outfield used against him, and plenty of hits have been robbed that looked good off the bat. Now, that headache might be reduced.

“I like to play to my strengths and pull the ball,” Ramírez said. “But when you hit it, you don’t know where the ball is going to go. … I hope and I think it’s going to benefit me, but we’ll have to see how that works out.”

The third and final indicator is protection. He hasn’t had a true threat behind him in the lineup for a while. Now, the Guardians have Josh Bell, who could fill that role and allow Ramírez to see some better pitches.

“You want them to pitch to Josey, and if they don’t, you want them to pay a price,” Francona said. “I think Josh Bell, again, no one has a crystal ball, but it’s kind of an obvious -- he’s a switch-hitter. I think it’s gonna help, especially against left-handers.”

Maybe this could finally be the year that ends in an American League Most Valuable Player Award celebration that Ramírez has been dreaming of. Regardless, he’s just ready to be back in the dugout without worrying about his injury. And his excitement levels are already palpable this early in the spring.

“I’m always looking forward to [watching him],” Francona said. “He’s so good that I’ve seen him get fast starts, slow starts, but when it’s over, he’s in the top five. That’s pretty impressive. And just what he does for not just our team but our organization. I mean, he does a lot. We’re fortunate and we know that.”