BOSTON -- In his media session prior to Wednesday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell was asked about a dozen questions, and all but one dealt with legitimate issues with the club.
Why are you struggling against division opponents? What can you do to improve bench play? How do you handle the Clay Buchholz situation? What can Eduardo Rodriguez do to turn it around? Can Christian Vazquez break out of his slump? And what about Hanley Ramirez?
It was a line of questioning a manager might expect with his team in a 4-7 funk. But it was that final question that was brought up in various forms multiple times. It was Ramirez himself who provided an emphatic answer just a few hours later.
Ramirez, whose home run drought of more than a month has been a talking point for the past few days, took the first pitch he saw from Orioles starter Kevin Gausman in the top of the third inning and deposited it into the neighborhood beyond the Green Monster for a three-run homer. It was an impressive moon shot that got even those accustomed to long balls jumping for joy.
“Did you see where that ball landed?” said designated hitter David Ortiz, who was on first base at the time and whose childlike reaction to the shot was played several times on TV. “That’s what got me excited.”
The sheer fact that Ramirez got into one was cause for excitement. Nestled in the middle of a lineup that has been producing gaudy numbers most of the season, he had struggled at times to keep up. Ramirez entered Wednesday with a disappointing .718 OPS, just a shade better than his lackluster debut season (.717) with the Red Sox in 2015.
Perhaps the outburst that his team and its fans have been waiting for is imminent.
“Get ready. Get your ticket and first class, whatever, coach, it’s about to get hot,” Ramirez joked with reporters. “I needed a couple of hits for confidence, but in my mind I knew I was getting close.”
Farrell hinted as much before the game, saying Ramirez had struggled with some timing issues but that his contact was better over the past week or so. He reiterated that several hours later, having seen his first baseman record just his second multihit game of the month in the 6-4 victory over Baltimore.
“To have that type of middle-of-the-order bat -- we still have a lot of confidence in Hanley and his ability to do that -- it would certainly add an extra-base threat to the middle of the order,” Farrell said. “The way guys are going around him, particularly David ahead of him, the way Jackie[ Bradley Jr.]'s come on this year, it makes that middle of the order that much more formidable.
“It’s encouraging to see this last five- to seven-day stretch. It’s starting to come to life a little bit.”
Ramirez was hitting .320 with four homers entering a doubleheader with Kansas City on May 18. He finished Saturday’s win in Minnesota at .268 with, again, four homers. But he has quietly put together a five-game stretch that includes five hits, five RBIs and five walks, the kind of stretch-the-lineup production that could help the Sox sustain slumps in other parts of the order.
That sort of protection is exactly what Ramirez’s teammates have provided while he’s struggled to break free.
“As a player, to be part of [a powerful offense], that relaxes you a little bit even if you’re struggling,” Ramirez said. “You’ve got guys that can pick you up. It’s a long season, you’re going to have ups and downs. You just got to find a way to hang in there until you get it again.”
The Red Sox are hoping a big night from Ramirez signals the start of a hot streak, and perhaps a different line of questioning for their manager.