Hanley shows signs of regaining groove

Hanley shows signs of regaining groove

BOSTON -- Hanley Ramirez hit a bullet in the bottom of the sixth inning of Saturday night's 6-3 loss to the Royals -- the hardest he's hit a ball in some time. When center fielder Lorenzo Cain made a catch on the 109-mph liner, Ramirez crouched down in frustration, as his recent slump reached 0-for-16.

In his next at-bat, Ramirez was rewarded for the recent work he's done to get out of his slump. The slugger squared up the ball perfectly and hit a rocket off the Monster in left-center.

Statcast™ registered the exit velocity at 114 mph and estimates it would have traveled 403 feet if not for the wall knocking it down.

"Any time a guy leans on the ball and stays on it, stays through it, it's a good sign of things to come. So obviously it translated into that double in the left-center-field gap," said Red Sox interim manager Torey Lovullo.

When Ramirez drives the ball with such force as he did in those back-to-back at-bats, it becomes even more perplexing that he's had such a sub-par season (.254, 19 homers, 53 RBIs, .727 OPS) offensively.

In 21 games and 82 at-bats in April, Ramirez looked like a candidate for the American League's Most Valuable Player Award, as he belted 10 home runs and had a .999 OPS.

Ramirez has now played 81 games since April, and he has but nine homers over his last 308 at-bats. He has a .244 average and a .655 OPS.

For all the talk about Ramirez's tough adjustment to left field, his lack of offense has been perhaps more surprising. The Red Sox signed Ramirez last offseason because he has raked for virtually his entire career.

Some health ailments have likely contributed to his less than spectacular numbers. Ramirez sprained his left shoulder on April 29, and his season dipped from then on.

Ramirez lined a ball off his left foot in Detroit on Aug. 7, and he missed seven straight games.

"The shoulder, and the line drive [off the foot]," said Ramirez, admitting begrudgingly that his ailments haven't helped his season. "But mentally I stay tough and I come here every day and do my work to get ready to play and compete every day out there."

Hitting coach Chili Davis has seen the work behind the scenes and hopes that it starts to pay off.

"Last night, he pulled me in and showed me a video and looked at his swing. He swung through some pitches he thought he should have hit or hit harder," said Davis. "For him, it's just to keep working -- like anybody else. Try to work as much under control as you can. The game's fast enough when 7 [p.m. ET] hits, so try to slow it down prior to the game and just try to feel things out. Hanley's won batting titles, he's done some things in this game that I haven't done. He knows how to hit. He's just got to keep going at it."

Ramirez hasn't homered in his last 105 at-bats, going back to July 11. But that doesn't concern Davis.

"If you try to force power, it kind of throws everything else out of sync," Davis said. "It takes you out of control. Power is not something you want to force."

There were parts of the season when Ramirez seemed to be trying too hard to hit home runs, and it might have forced him into some bad habits, taking him away from the swing that has made him such a good pure hitter through the years. He also became pull-happy, perhaps tempted too much by the Monster.

Ramirez is signed with the Red Sox through 2018, so it would be good for everyone involved if he can get back to being a force down the stretch of this season.

"I told him to try to work on the pitches you feel you're not getting to, try to work on getting to them the right way without cheating," said Davis. "Trust your hands. I tell everybody the same thing. You're not going to hit with your eyes closed. And if your hands don't fire the right way, you're not going to hit. See the ball, trust your hands."

With six weeks remaining in the season, Ramirez still has time to do damage.

"Just have to finish strong," Ramirez said.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.