Hot Ramirez helps lead Sox's turnaround

CHICAGO -- When the gates opened at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday morning, it was nearly 70 degrees and sunny. But as it got closer to first pitch, the temperature fell almost 30 degrees and the rain arrived, forcing a pair of delays totaling two hours.

However, the suddenly frigid temperatures didn’t faze Alexei Ramirez.

With his team trailing by a run and Jordan Danks at second, the scorching Ramirez lined a first-pitch fastball into the left field bullpen in the bottom of the ninth to give the Chicago White Sox a 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

“At that time, I didn’t feel any cold at all,” Ramirez said through an interpreter. “That was a great moment. The most important thing is we won the game.”

It was Ramirez’s third homer of the season and with his 2-for-4 day, he upped his season slash line to .420/.463/.680.

Ramirez is a notorious slow starter and even with his hot season beginnings, he entered the day with a .634 OPS in March and April for his career.

What may be most impressive is that Ramirez, a very aggressive swinger in the past, has really cut down on the strikeouts in the first two weeks, whiffing in only 5.6 percent of his plate appearances. That is huge drop from his previous career best for a season, set last year at 10.1 percent.

His manager, Robin Ventura, said Ramirez is looking comfortable at the plate to start the year.

“Even in spring training, you see him kind of warming up with the bat,” Ventura said. “Right now, he's putting it on the barrel. He's a very aggressive hitter by nature anyway, but he's been zeroing in somewhat to be able to put it on the barrel.”

Not only does Ramirez seem like a different player, the White Sox as a whole appear to have made a 180 from their disastrous 2013.

“Last year, [the Indians] probably won it just like that,” Ventura said. “It's nice for us to be able to do this. The feeling is, even though you're down you feel like you can come back. That's a very good feeling to have offensively. Even if something like that happens, you can still come back and tie it up or go ahead like we did.”

The turnaround in the offense -- which scored a measly 598 runs last season and now lead all of baseball with 80 runs in 13 games -- has led to a clubhouse and dugout vibe of improving, as well.

“At times last year when we’d get down by runs; we were beaten,” Danks said. “This year’s a different team. We battle back and [Adam] Eaton said before the ninth inning, ‘That’s why we play nine innings.’ And we ended up winning. It was really fun.”

However, it wasn’t all positive for the South Siders on Sunday.

A bullpen that has been a major weakness early on this season had yet another hiccup.

After Jose Quintana battled through six innings of one-run ball, which included a career-high 121 pitches and a 45-minute rain delay, Maikel Cleto tossed two scoreless innings. But closer Matt Lindstrom immediately was put in a rough spot when Jose Abreu committed an error to allow Michael Brantley to reach base to lead-off the inning. Lindstrom couldn’t work around the mistake and ended up allowing two unearned runs to score, including the go-ahead run on a wild pitch, for his second blown save of the season.

“Closing’s tough. It’s not easy for anybody,” Ventura said. “Once you give them an extra out, for whatever reason, whether you’re walking a guy or there’s an error that happens, it becomes tough, especially in a one-run game.”

But for at least one day, the White Sox can look past their bullpen woes and enjoy a victory.

“It’s really important, especially for the confidence and continuing the streak and rolling along with this team,” Danks said. “Just momentum is the key for as long as the season is.

“It’s really important to grab games like this, and we’re all pretty excited about it.”