PEORIA, Ariz. -- Hanley Ramirez singled, walked and scored a run in Saturday's 9-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners before heading off to join his Dominican teammates in Florida to train for the World Baseball Classic. As usual, Ramirez gave the Dodgers glimpses of his prodigious tools but also some worries about his priorities.
The Dodgers have had misgivings about Ramirez playing in the WBC, since the Dominicans already have Jose Reyes at shortstop. They don't want Ramirez re-adjusting to third base, which he played for nearly five months last season. He has put in early work all spring to improve his footwork and get off his throws more quickly from shortstop.
Ramirez said Saturday he will ask Dominican general manager Moises Alou if he can play only shortstop and designated hitter in the tournament.
“With all that work we’ve been doing in the morning, we don’t want to go back,” Ramirez said. “I’ve got to keep getting better, keep improving. I don’t want to let anybody down.”
The "Ramirez Project" this spring hasn’t been confined to fielding. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has challenged Ramirez to shorten his swing and has even toyed with using him as a leadoff hitter during the season.
Ramirez’s power has held fairly steady in recent seasons, but his batting average dipped from a 2009 high of .342 to .257 last year, and his on-base percentage has declined even more sharply, from .410 to .322.
“Hitting .250 is just not good enough for Hanley Ramirez,” Mattingly said. “His swing seemed really big last year. It’s not like it’s just terrible, but there’s more in there.”
There have been some promising results already. Ramirez is 5-for-15 this spring, all singles. He also walked twice. He admits he needs to swing for the fences less frequently to be a more complete player.
“Just shorten down, hit the ball on the ground, line drives, stay up the middle, gap to gap,” Ramirez said. “What happened is I did it once, then I expect to hit 30 homers.”
Chris Capuano has struggled early this spring, which isn’t good news for his efforts to force his way into the Dodgers’ rotation. It’s also not ideal if the Dodgers are looking to maximize his value in a trade.
Capuano has allowed six earned runs in five innings over two starts. He allowed home runs to the Seattle Mariners’ top prospect, catcher Mike Zunino, and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez in the third inning of Saturday's loss.
Soon, Cactus League innings will dwindle for some of the pitchers who appear to be outside the Dodgers’ five-man rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-jin Ryu and Chad Billingsley. Capuano said some of the pitchers have been told they’ll get their innings in minor league games.
“As long as you’re competing, it doesn’t matter,” Capuano said. “Sometimes, those minor league guys are free swingers and stuff, and you need to make your pitches.”
For the first time all spring, Mattingly admitted there is a sliver of hope for top outfield prospect Yasiel Puig to open the season with the Dodgers, assuming Carl Crawford begins the season on the disabled list.
Puig, who finished last season at Class A Rancho Cucamonga, doubled off Oliver Perez and is 7-for-18 (.389) with three doubles. His physique -- 6-foot-3, 245 pounds -- and surprising speed have been the buzz of camp so far.
"Obviously, if he continues doing what he's doing, you've got to look at things like that, but honestly, there's a really good chance of sending somebody in the wrong direction," Mattingly said.