JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Hanley Ramirez trotted onto a practice field near first base, walked past second base, slowed as he reached his familiar shortstop position — and kept going.
He might not be thrilled about his new role, but Ramirez is now a third baseman.
The former All-Star shortstop assumed the position for the Miami Marlins for the first time Tuesday, fielding practice grounders and sending the strongest signal yet that he’s willing to make the change.
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When Ramirez came off the field, he was asked if he’s OK with the switch.
“I never said I’m not going to do it,” he responded. “I’m positive mentally. I feel great.”
The Marlins wanted to move Ramirez to third to make room for All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, who signed a $106 million, six-year deal in December. Last week, new manager Ozzie Guillen said he didn’t think Ramirez had embraced the move.
As pitchers and catchers reported for the start of spring training, Ramirez’s workout with a couple of other players was so informal team officials missed it, including Guillen and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest.
“How’d he do? Did he catch any?” Beinfest said with a smile.
Several grounders scooted past Ramirez, and his long lobs to first base included at least one wild toss. But no one’s keeping score yet, and his mere presence at third eased concerns he might balk at the move.
Marlins officials had repeatedly expressed confidence Ramirez would warm to the switch.
“You just don’t go sign Jose Reyes unless you’re completely comfortable Hanley’s going to play third base and play it well,” Beinfest said. “So I don’t think there’s any concern there.”
Ramirez said his only previous experience at third was for a handful of games in the 2006 winter league. He began the transition by taking grounders during the offseason in his native Dominican Republic, working with Baltimore Orioles third baseman Wilson Betemit, and said the new position doesn’t feel strange.
“I feel like it’s more easy for me right now because you don’t have to be moving a lot,” Ramirez said. “You’re close to the foul line.”
Ramirez said his mood was cheery because his surgically repaired left shoulder feels strong. He was cleared for full activity last week by Dr. James Andrews, although as a precaution, the Marlins will discourage Ramirez from diving or sliding headfirst during spring training.
Shoulder trouble forced Ramirez to miss the final two months of last season, and he said he played in pain much of the season, which explained his curtailed productivity. The 2009 NL batting champion hit only .243 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs in 92 games — a career low in every category.
Ramirez anticipates a big comeback.
“I know what kind of player I am,” he said. “And I know what kind of player I’m going to be this year.”
An offseason spending spree transformed the Marlins into potential contenders for the NL East title. Guillen said the team was built around Ramirez, who eagerly anticipates batting third behind Reyes and speedy Emilio Bonifacio.
“If we stay healthy the whole year it’s going to be a monster year, with Jose leading off, Bonifacio and me,” Ramirez said. “What a combination.”
Does that mean Ramirez can become an All-Star third baseman?
“Why not?” he said.
Beinfest said there’s every reason to anticipate that Ramirez will thrive at third — and even hold his own defensively. Why?
“Because he’s Hanley Ramirez, and he’s super talented,” Beinfest said. “I think he can just about play anywhere on the field. There are only so many talents like him. He’ll be fine. He’ll be able to do it whether it’s a slow roller or going to his backhand. He’s got the arm, he’s got all the things he needs to do to be successful over there.”