Hanley happily embraces Miami's new chapter

Hanley happily embraces Miami's new chapter

Hanley happily embraces Miami's new chapter
JUPITER, Fla. -- If Hanley Ramirez was previously disgruntled about changing positions, the three-time All-Star didn't show it on the eve of the Marlins opening Spring Training.

Time has a way of smoothing things over. It's allowed Ramirez a chance to relax, refocus and get ready for a bounce-back season.

Miami's pitchers and catchers begin workouts on Wednesday. At camp early, Ramirez was all smiles and eager to put to rest any questions about how he will handle switching to third base.

Recovering from left shoulder surgery, and a down year where he batted .243, Ramirez is eager to move forward.

"Now, I need to show I improved in the offseason, through the bad times when I had injuries," Ramirez said. "Mentally, I'm stronger and physically. I just feel good right now.

"There's a good vibe around here, from the Major Leagues to the Minor Leagues. Everybody wants to wear that new uniform. It's good for everybody. You've got your teammates, and everybody wants to come to that new ballpark."

As a franchise, the Marlins are starting a new beginning, headlined by their move to a retractable-roof ballpark in the Little Havana section of Miami.

Ramirez also is going through a transition, sliding over to third base after being an All-Star shortstop. The change was prompted by the signing of four-time All-Star Jose Reyes in December.

"It's a new year," Ramirez said. "I'm happy to be here."

Miami's pitchers and catchers begin workouts on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET. Position players are scheduled to get going on Sunday at the Roger Dean Stadium complex.

Ramirez is in town early, like several other players who are recovering from injury. He spent a couple of hours on Tuesday hitting in the cages and fielding ground balls on a back field at third base.

"We will have plenty of time to see Hanley," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He seems happy. I like his attitude right now. Obviously, over a long period of time, not just Hanley, but every player has the tendency to be up and down. I think the attitude he has right now is great."

More than playing third base, health is the biggest concern the Marlins have with Ramirez. Last week, the veteran infielder had a check-up visit with Dr. James Andrews, who performed the shoulder surgery last year. To help the shoulder recover, the team is asking Ramirez to refrain from diving when full-squad workouts begin.

"He's cleared to go," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "He saw Dr. Andrews last week, before the [charity] golf tournament. We're going to try to keep him from diving on the shoulder during Spring Training, just to minimize anything going on there. But he's fully cleared to go. He says he feels well."

The Marlins are being cautious about diving to avoid any further issues with the shoulder. But the team expects him to be at full speed once the season starts on April 4 against the Cardinals at Marlins Park.

"We're going to try to keep him on his feet in Spring Training," Beinfest said. "There is no reason for him to dive right now."


"What that means to be MVP, you've got to take your team to the playoffs."
-- Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez understands the need for being cautious, but he also isn't sure what will happen once games are played and he has to react.

"Instincts, man," he said. "When you're in the game, you don't think [about not diving]. When you've got a ground ball that you've got to dive for, it's going to come at that second to make that decision. It's not going to be easy to make that decision not to dive for that ground ball."

Ramirez is looking to rebound from his roughest big league season, in which he batted .243 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in 92 games. Injuries played a big part in his down year. He spent time on the disabled list in the first half of the season due to a back injury. And Ramirez missed the final two months after separating his left shoulder.

"When you know you've got injuries, you're not going to be happy," Ramirez said. "You know you're not 100 percent, and you can't do it. But when you feel good, and your body feels good, mentally you feel strong. What else do you need? The guys who are around me, they're showing support."

A career .306 hitter, Ramirez says he expects to return to his old form.

"It doesn't matter about my batting average," he said. "I know I was injured, with my back. At one point, I couldn't play anymore."

Last June 6, Ramirez went on the disabled list with a lower left back strain, marking the first DL stint of his career. He was batting .210 at the time. While Ramirez struggled, he did rebound a bit, raising his average to .255 on July 18, before finishing at .243 when he dislodged his shoulder on Aug. 2 at New York.

"I know what kind of player I am," Ramirez said. "I know what kind of player I'm going to be this year, because my body feels 100 percent."

This offseason, Ramirez spent time working out with his former teammate, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers. Cabrera told Ramirez that he needs to become an MVP.

"What that means to be MVP, you've got to take your team to the playoffs," Ramirez said.

Considering his track record, the Marlins were baffled by Ramirez's low batting average in 2011.

"I never thought I'd see it," Beinfest said. "It's a blip. I'd like to believe, and I'm confident that's all it was, a blip. I can't tell you exactly why it happened. But that's not who he was. We don't foresee that happening."

As for his frame of mind, Ramirez insists he is focused on third base.

"I never said I'm not going to do it," Ramirez said. "I'm just happy to be here with the Marlins, here with my teammates. Everybody is happy. We've got to stay together."

After Reyes signed in December, there were reports that Ramirez wanted to be traded, or have his contract restructured. Ramirez downplays those stories.

"I knew I didn't say that," he said. "Me and my agent, we were laughing about everything that was out. I enjoyed my time with my kids."

Matching Ramirez with Reyes gives the Marlins what they believe is one of the top left sides of an infield in the game.

"The only thing is we've got to stay healthy," Ramirez said. "If we stay healthy the whole year, it's going to be a monster year."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.