The up-and-down ride of Ramirez in the No. 2 spot in the lineup will be a thing of the past as long as Cabrera stays healthy and uses his sword-like bat-wielding ability to move over runners and deliver whatever the situation requires.
Ramirez never was ideally suited for the second spot; he was merely the best candidate for a franchise that has been without an ideal No. 2 man for some time now. Gordon Beckham also took a turn in the role and struggled with its nuances.
Ramirez generally tried to have the same approach at the plate as a No. 2 hitter that he did in any other slot in the lineup, although he did give plate discipline a try at times. That didn’t seem to suit him, either.
This year, Ramirez looks to be lined up for more of a run-producing role in the No. 6 spot in the order, with manager Robin Ventura saying that it isn’t out of the question that Ramirez could even find himself batting fifth at times.
“I’ve been feeling good in that spot and it’s good for me because I’m in a position where I can drive in runs and that’s good for my game,” Ramirez said through an interpreter. “I hope to accomplish that and succeed with the responsibility they have given me.”
The early reviews show the change has been a rousing success. Ramirez left Arizona leading the Cactus League in RBIs and in a four-way tie for the lead in all of baseball. His 17 RBIs matched Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Eduardo Escobar of the Minnesota Twins and Michael Morse of the Miami Marlins.
Back to an aggressive approach at the plate with the opportunity to hit away more than simply comply with what the situation requires, it has freed Ramirez’s offensive game.
“I think that in the spring, it is the thing I have been doing well,” he said. “I just hope to keep healthy, use the same approach and do the same job during the season.”
Ramirez is a career .277 hitter with a .318 on-base percentage over 361 games (1,473 at-bats) in the second spot in the lineup. The next two spots where he has seen the most time are in the No. 7 hole (.260/.305 in 659 at-bats) and the No. 8 hole (.293/.328 in 744 at-bats).
His track record shows he can take advantage of people on base in front of him. In the Nos. 7 and 8 spots he has 41 home runs and 196 RBIs in 1,403 at-bats. As a No. 2 hitter, generally with less on-base types in front of him other than the leadoff man, he has 30 home runs and 165 RBIs in 1,473 at-bats.
As a No. 6 hitter, the spot where he figures to spend the most time this year, he has just 468 at-bats in his career, batting .269 with a .292 on-base percentage. He has 11 home runs there and 37 RBIs.
Last year, though, his 185 at-bats as a No. 6 hitter where the most he has had in that spot in a single season. He batted .297 with a .313 on-base percentage, hitting two home runs with 11 RBIs.
“There’s thoughts of moving him around, being able to pick some good spots for him,” Ventura said. “He’s been swinging it great. I thought his patience has been good, too. He’s going to have some opportunities with some guys on base. Any time you have that as a player, it intensifies everything. And for his game, that’s perfect.”
Last season, Ramirez drove in 74 runs and he could be poised to top his career-best RBI total of 77 in his rookie season of 2008. If he can add Gold Glove-caliber defense on top of that, he will give the White Sox one fewer worry for the upcoming season.
Ramirez was on the White Sox’s last playoff club in that 2008 season, and he and longtime teammate John Danks, survivors of the club’s rebuild in recent seasons, would like to reach that level again.
“He’s always been a very talented guy, good teammate and a big part of our teams,” Danks said of Ramirez. “But in the last few years, he has taken that last step and become a leader. He is a guy we count on heavily to produce and help us win ballgames.”
Sensing he was being talked about, Ramirez fired Danks a look from across the clubhouse in Arizona and the two shared a laugh. Ramirez might not say much, and his English is limited, but he always seems to get his point across.
“He’s a great ballplayer -- we all know that -- but he’s a great guy, too,” Danks said. “We all like having him around and I’m certainly glad he’s on my team.”
As the new season approaches, Ramirez insists he won’t be doing anything different at the plate. The difference, then, must be subconscious as the 33-year-old veteran of seven big-league seasons looks as comfortable at the plate as he has in some time.
“I will always be the same hitter, I’m just trying to do my work and try to help the team in any spot of the lineup they need me,” Ramirez said. “When I was in the second spot, it was good for me and I did my job. When I was hitting seven or eighth, I also did my job. This is just another spot and I have to keep doing my job.”