PHOENIX — If Hanley Ramirez is to be the Dodgers’ starting shortstop, he’ll have to improve his defense. That’s been the Dodgers’ stance all winter. Evidently, it’s been Ramirez’s too.
Ramirez played 57 games at shortstop for the Dodgers last season after a midseason trade from the Miami Marlins, for whom he played third base.
The former All-Star looked uncomfortable. His range appeared limited. The ball was often slow to come out of his glove.
“For me, it wasn’t very good,” Ramirez said. “I know I can do better than that.”
On the day before the Dodgers’ first full-squad workout, Ramirez reported to camp and made his way out to one of the practice fields, where he fielded some grounders at shortstop.
Ramirez was a career-long shortstop until last year, when he was moved to the corner by the Marlins to accommodate free-agent addition Jose Reyes. When the Dodgers moved him back to shortstop in August, Ramirez said he was surprised by how much his timing was off.
“It’s a different timing,” he said. “This game, to me, it’s about timing.”
But with the Dodgers in the middle of a pennant race, there was only so much work he could do.
He played in the Dominican League this winter with the intention of playing shortstop, but he tripped at home plate and landed awkwardly, jamming his shoulder.
“I was going to play shortstop the next day, and that happened,” he said.
Ramirez finished the winter season having played shortstop only twice, but he said he got in plenty of work by taking grounders before games.
“I never stopped working,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t playing shortstop, I still took my ground balls.”
Ramirez expects the transition to be manageable. So does Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly.
“I look at short for him as not moving positions,” Mattingly said. “He’s played there his whole life. Third is moving positions. Short is somewhere that he’s comfortable.”
If he’s not, there could be problems. Dee Gordon has the athleticism to handle the position but is said to lack the polish. Jerry Hairston Jr. played there as recently as last season, but, at 36, probably can’t do it every day. Luis Cruz is considered a better third baseman than shortstop.
Should Mattingly decide to move Ramirez from shortstop, Ramirez said he won’t fight it. “I’m an employee,” he said. “I want to win.”
Ramirez pointed out that in his eight major league seasons, he has never reached the playoffs. “It’s about time,” he said.
But defense isn’t the only part of his game in which he is trying to recapture his old form. A former batting champion, Ramirez has hit a combined .252 the last two seasons.
He is looking to hit .342 again, as he did in 2009 to lead the National League.
“Hit .340 with, what, 15 homers? No,” he said. “Hit .310, .305 with 20-plus? Yeah.”