It appears Hanley Ramirez is trying to be a little more quiet this season, but it has nothing to do with what he says.
The Boston Red Sox first baseman is hoping to bounce back after a disappointing 2015 campaign with the Sox. If the first two games are any indication, 2016 might mark the return of the player who terrorized pitchers with the Florida Marlins and then the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ramirez’s defense got all the attention this offseason, but it’s his offense that’s done the talking through two games against the Indians in Cleveland. It’s a small sample size, but a slight change in Ramirez’s approach at the plate is reason for optimism.
NESN’s Jerry Remy on Wednesday night pointed out the slight change in Ramirez’s swing. Essentially, Ramirez’s 2016 approach appears centered around quieting down at the plate, simplifying his attack and minimizing movement.
Here’s the split screen displayed on Wednesday’s night’s broadcast, with Remy’s comments below.
Remy: “You look on the left, a year ago, you can see that his bat was kind of upright and now he starts with it on his shoulder. His stance is more spread this year than it was this year and it’s not as violent of a leg kick.”
Remy: “See where his leg is last year and see where it is this year. Not as violent as all. What he’s trying to do is calm his whole swing down and go the other way if he has to.”
Through two games, Ramirez’s focus on driving the ball to the right side — or up the middle, where hitters want to hit the ball — has been undeniable. Ramirez drove a deep single to right field on Opening Day. On Wednesday night, he hit a sharp groundout to the pitcher in his first at-bat before later almost taking the pitcher’s head off with a line-drive single up the box.
Oh, and there also was his opposite-field home run in the top of the sixth inning.
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Once again, Remy offered up insight as to the subtle yet effective changes Ramirez made.
Remy: “Last year, much different stance for Ramirez. This year, bat closer on his shoulder. Then you see the leg kick. Look how close his feet are last year. The high, violent leg kick. This year, a little bit this. It’s gonna still be a leg kick, but not as high and that keeps him more compact, his eyes on the baseball much better and able to drive the ball to the opposite field, which is what he did (on the home run).”
So, what exactly does all this mean? Basically, by simplifying his approach and eliminating as much wasted movement as possible, it puts Ramirez in good position to do two very important things: Keep his head still, which allows him to see the ball longer and drive it to all fields, and keep his hands back longer, which also helps him drive any pitch in any location and should help him adjust to breaking pitches.
Wednesday night was the perfect example, as Ramirez took a pitch on the inner half of the plate (see the yellow No. 4 below) and drove it with authority to the opposite field.
Watch the video below from Ramirez’s Dodgers days, paying close attention to Ramirez’s head and his hands. His head stays remarkably still and his hands stay back even as his stride foot comes down and touches the ground.
Now you put the Dodgers swing next to his home run swing from Wednesday, and you can see the similarities. Again, look at the hands and head.
These are small adjustments, but baseball is a game of adjustments. It’s probably worth mentioning Ramirez jumped out to a hot start in 2015, too, before falling apart. He’s got at least one Red Sox teammate who’s taking notice and believes the first baseman can keep it up.
“He came with a plan,” Boston designated hitter David Ortiz told reporters Wednesday in Cleveland. “He came with a plan since the first day of spring training. We’ve been talking the whole time about things that we like to do and he’s locked in, man.”
If Ramirez does keep with these small changes, it’s likely to pay big dividends for Ramirez and the Red Sox in 2016.
Thumbnail photo via Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports Images
Screen shots via MLB.TV