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The way the Red Sox see it, Hanley Ramirez’ production was slipping fast, he wasn’t showing signs of turning it around and they didn’t think he could handle a part-time role.
So instead of waiting for him to get out of a slump that’s barely two weeks old, or trying to use their power-hitting slugger exclusively against lefties, who he’s hitting .333 with an .854 OPS against, the Red Sox dropped him from their active roster yesterday to make room for Dustin Pedroia.
Ramirez was hitting .254 with a .708 OPS on the year, and was without a hit in his last 21 at-bats.
“The last couple of weeks, he ran into a slump and I just feel like he was trying to do too much,” said hitting coach Tim Hyers. “He started the year really, really well. I think the last couple weeks maybe he’s putting a lot of pressure on himself to really perform and he got away from himself.
“He got big. His swing got a little long and he’s trying to put a lot of effort into it instead of taking what the pitcher gives you. Sometimes hitters get caught trying to chase results instead of chasing a process.”
This isn’t new. Former manager John Farrell used to say the same thing about Ramirez. So, too, did former hitting coach Chili Davis, who once appeared so frustrated with Ramirez he responded to a question by saying, “Don’t ask me about Hanley right now. I can’t talk about Hanley.”
But that hasn’t stopped Ramirez from being a productive player, at times. So was this not a fixable issue?
“I mean, Hanley is a veteran, he knows how to help himself,” Hyers said. “I think it was more mental than physical.”
Manager Alex Cora is the one who suggested to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski that the decision to get rid of Ramirez made more sense than the obvious move the Red Sox had been thinking about all month, which is to trade Blake Swihart.
Cora explained that Swihart’s versatility made him a better fit for the team than Ramirez, who can only play first base.
But Cora, too, offered a belief that Ramirez’ slump was concerning.
“He wasn’t as disciplined as early in the season,” Cora said. “It goes back to swinging at strikes, and if you take a look at his numbers, I think it’s two walks in (67 at-bats). Early in the season, he was hunting strikes, and he wasn’t expanding, and he was able to stay on fastballs going the other way. Lately, he hit a few home runs in that road trip — two in New York, I think it was — to the pull side, but I honestly think when Hanley Ramirez is at his best, he’s a .300 hitter. He can drive the ball the other way, stay in the middle of the field. They were shifting him a lot lately, and he wasn’t able to go the other way with it.”
And both Cora and Dombrowski insisted that Ramirez wouldn’t be able to handle a part-time role, though they didn’t say why they thought that way.
“We just didn’t think it was a good role for him,” Dombrowski said.
And just like that, Swihart has become a player Cora wants to use regularly.
The catcher/utility player has started just four times in the first 50 games, but with Ramirez gone he was told to start working out more frequently at first base. He has just four major league innings there, but could platoon with Mitch Moreland.
And even though he’s the third-string catcher who has caught just two innings this season, Cora said Swihart could start some games behind the plate.
How did Swihart go from being a player who could hardly get into the game to one that Cora has plans for?
“I think the situation changes,” Cora said. “At one point everybody, we thought, that (getting rid of Swihart) was going to be the move (to make room for Pedroia). And it’s not. I do feel, little by little, the way we talk in the locker room, why not (start Swihart at catcher)? We’ve been going a long time with the two guys (Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon). Obviously they’re swinging the bat better, they’re doing a lot better. But I do think there will be certain spots we feel (Swihart) can catch.”
And with that, things change for Swihart, a career .260 hitter with a .687 OPS over 423 plate appearances.
“Just been doing a lot of thinking,” he said. “I’ve been still going about my business the same way, being prepared to play. When they made a decision, it’s more of an opportunity to get in there and help this team win.”
Swihart’s locker was located next to Ramirez’. The locker is now empty. Asked if it was weird to see, Swihart said, “I have the whole section to myself.”