Healthy Ramirez back playing like an All-Star
JUL 02, 2014 12:45p ET
The question coming into the season wasn't if Ramirez would hit when healthy, but yet if he would avoid the injuries that plagued him in 2013.
Despite a hamstring injury costing him 22 games in May and early June, Ramirez has vaulted into first place in the fan voting to start at third base for the National League in the All-Star Game. It's probably no coincidence Ramirez's jump in the All-Star Game voting has coincided with his torrid stretch at the plate.
Ramirez is hitting .333 (31-for-93) with six home runs and 19 RBI in 25 games since returning from the disabled list on June 4, improving his season numbers to .287, 11 home runs and 40 RBI. He's just one home run and nine RBI away from matching his 2013 totals in those categories.
"Last year I wasn't healthy at all," Ramirez, who was limited to 92 games in 2013, said. "This year I feel a lot better physically and mentally, and you see the results. When you're healthy, you're going to perform. When you're not, it's tough. That was the case last year.
"This game is tough enough to play when you're healthy. When you're not, it's even tougher. That's one of the main reasons."
Because of the way the top of Milwaukee's lineup was swinging the bat when Ramirez returned, manager Ron Roenicke placed the veteran in the fifth spot in the order instead of his customary cleanup spot.
While Ramirez hit cleanup four times in June -- mostly when Carlos Gomez has been out of the lineup -- Roenicke would eventually like to return the 36-year-old to the No. 4 spot, but the Brewers have been scoring over five runs per game with their current alignment.
"Sometime I would like to," Roenicke said. "You look at numbers of things and it doesn't tell you to do it yet. Visually, you see a game and you think, 'Well, I would like to do it.'
"When you talk about Gomey, because we know he can hit anywhere in the lineup, he's still like .350 or something with runners in scoring position. I think he's third in the league. So, what do you do?"
Roenicke admitted it has been much easier for him to keep the lineup the way it is because Ramirez, despite being a cleanup hitter for the vast majority of his career, is fine hitting at No. 5.
"Ronnie keeps asking me and I keep telling him, 'We're winning like that. No reason to change anything,'" Ramirez said. "I don't have the big ego that I have to be the cleanup hitter or the three-hole hitter. I don't care. As long as we're winning games, I don't care."
With All-Star Game voting ending at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, Ramirez leads New York's David Wright by 235,060 votes to start at third base for the National League. The All-Star Game Selection Show airs Sunday night, as Ramirez is looking to make the mid-summer classic for the third time in his career.
Ramirez started the All-Star Game in 2005 and was named as a reserve in 2008.
"Win-win situation for me," Ramirez said. "If I make it, good. If not, I get to go home (to the Dominican Republic) and enjoy myself for four days.
"(Going to the All-Star Game) is fun. Anytime you get the opportunity to go, you should. It's a fun time, especially for the family."
Third base is clearly the weakest position within the Brewers minor-league system, as Milwaukee has no clear-cut replacement for Ramirez knocking on the door. Ramirez, who just turned 36 years old June 25, has a mutual option with the Brewers for 2015 at $14 million with a $4 million buyout.
Acquired in the Francisco Rodriguez trade with Baltimore last summer, Nicky Delmonico is Milwaukee's highest-ranked third-base prospect, but he's currently hitting .256 in Class-A Brevard County. The Brewers moved their minor-league player of the year from 2013, Jason Rogers, to third base this season and promoted him to Triple-A a few weeks ago. After hitting .282 with seven home runs and 43 RBI for Double-A Huntsville this season, Rogers is 3-for-18 in his first stint in Triple-A.
There are a variety of things the Brewers could do at third base next season, including re-signing Mark Reynolds, but bringing back Ramirez will certainly garner serious thought.
The key again will be health and if Milwaukee's front office feels Ramirez can hold up physically for another year.
"I just go year by year," Ramirez said. "I'm still under contract through this year, and that's all I care about. I don't really worry about next year.
"I feel fine. I'm fine. If I want to play next year, I will, and if I can, I will."