MILWAUKEE — It’s only fitting — but not in a good way — that the most frustrating season in Aramis Ramirez’s 16-year career is likely going to end in a disheartening and, well, kind of crazy way.
After battling left knee problems since injuring it in spring training, Ramirez strained his left knee in the benches-clearing brawl Wednesday night and doesn’t believe he will be able to play again this year.
Leave it to a freak injury to strike just when Ramirez was finally starting to hit his offensive groove in a season he called tougher than 2009 when he missed over two months with a shoulder injury.
“That year, I missed two months, 2 1/2 months, but that was it,” Ramirez said. “Long stay on the DL and then I came back and played the rest of the year. This year, I’ve been up and down — missed one month, came back, missed another month. And when I came back, I didn’t play every day; I played two days, couldn’t play a day game after a night game. So this is a lot tougher.”
Ramirez didn’t do himself any favors by rushing back from the first left knee sprain he suffered sliding into second base during a spring training game March 2. Wanting to be in the lineup on Opening Day, Ramirez returned well before he should have. The end result was an aggravation of the injury sliding into second base awkwardly against Arizona on April 5.
Ramirez was placed on the disabled list the following day and missed 23 games. The veteran third baseman returned May 3 but couldn’t play every day and clearly wasn’t close to 100 percent.
“It was handled well,” Ramirez said of his first comeback attempt. “I just didn’t heal the way I was supposed to, I guess. It just didn’t react the way we were expecting. It was so close (to the start of the season) I tried to come back the best I could. It didn’t work, though.”
Even when he was on the field, Ramirez wasn’t his usual run-producing self. The power simply wasn’t there, as Ramirez struggled to drive the baseball with much authority. After two months of jumping in and out of the lineup, Ramirez and the Brewers agreed it was time to take action.
Ramirez was placed on the disabled list July 7, as the Brewers initially planned on giving the 35-year-old an extended All-Star break to get healthy. As the break blew by and Ramirez didn’t return, Milwaukee decided to let Ramirez take as much time needed to get as close to 100 percent as possible.
That meant 32 more games on the disabled list, keeping Ramirez on the shelf until Aug. 13. This time the return wasn’t rushed, as he made sure he was as healthy as he was going to be before jumping back into the lineup.
Ramirez has only needed a couple of days off since his return and has hit .297 with seven home runs and 23 RBI since being activated for the second time. He was really starting to look like his old self in September with a .333 batting average, three home runs and 12 RBI in 20 games before his season was likely ended Wednesday.
“He’s a little bit better now, and I think that’s why we’re seeing better swings,” manager Ron Roenicke said before Wednesday’s aggravation of the knee injury. “But I know it’s important to him, and I’ve already had a conversation with him on the offseason and coming in to camp. He’s got the same attitude as he did (at the start of) this year. He came to camp in great shape this year, and he was ready to go, and he’s wanting to do the same next year.”
Ramirez plans to let his knee get back to 100 percent before he does anything this offseason. Once he gets a clean bill of health, Ramirez will begin a workout program centered around his lower body, something he hasn’t done before.
He plans to workout with Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz and a few other major leaguers in his native Dominican Republic.
“I think he understands with the injuries and the older you get that you have to have some strength in your legs,” Roenicke said. “That’s why he can’t drive the ball the other way the way he normally does; he just doesn’t have strength in his legs to push off and drive a ball that way.”
Owed $16 million next season in the final guaranteed year of his contract, Ramirez is hungry to get back to the middle of the order threat the Brewers need him to be. His return to form along with Ryan Braun’s return from suspension and a potential return of Corey Hart could help Milwaukee’s offense move back to being one of the best in the National League.
The Brewers badly missed their three, four and five hitters for most of the season, just one of the team’s myriad of issues in what has been a season to forget for many, including Ramirez.
If he misses Milwaukee’s final four games, Ramirez will have played in just 90 games this season, finishing at .281 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI — his lowest run-producing numbers in a decade.
“It hasn’t been fun for anybody — especially for me,” Ramirez said. “I haven’t played much, missed a lot of games, missed a lot of time. That’s never fun. But I look forward to next year, and hopefully I stay healthy.”