Marlins putting Hanley through paces at third

Marlins putting Hanley through paces at third

Marlins putting Hanley through paces at third
JUPITER, Fla. -- Get the word out: The Marlins are encouraging opponents to test Hanley Ramirez's defensive skills at third base.

Since game experience is the best teaching tool, Miami's coaches hope that Ramirez encounters as many challenges as possible during the spring season.

"I hope we get all kinds of situations in Spring Training, and we get as much as we can," said bench coach Joey Cora, who works with the infielders. "So at least we can experience it."

To drive home the point, Cora may urge some of his friends on other teams to occasionally drop a bunt or try to steal third -- something to keep Ramirez on his toes.

A three-time All-Star at shortstop, Ramirez is getting a crash course at third base now that the Marlins have four-time All-Star Jose Reyes at short.

Ramirez has been getting accustomed to his new position during the first two weeks of camp, going through extensive drills in every aspect of playing third base.

"People talk about the ground balls, and the angles, and all that stuff," Cora said. "But there are bunt situations, too, and when to cover third base. Or when to come in on a bunt, and when to let the pitcher get it."

Cutoff plays, calling defensive signals, steals, and throwing to second and first are other major parts of playing the position.

"All of that is going to take more getting used to than taking a ground ball or finding an angle or whatever," Cora said. "Situations at third base, and your responsibilities at third base, are different than they are at shortstop."

Ramirez got a quick lesson on Monday against the Cardinals in his first Grapefruit League game when Tyler Greene ripped a hard liner that whistled past him. It was ruled a double, but it was the type of play Ramirez expects to make more times than not.

"It tricked me a little bit," Ramirez said. "In the season, for sure [I catch it]. I jumped, and it looked like it was going to go down, so I dropped my glove a little bit."

The Marlins are hoping that he gets used to those hot liners.

For most of Spring Training, expect to see Ramirez, Reyes and second baseman Omar Infante on the field often so they all adapt and become accustomed to each other. Matching the three isn't easy early in camp due to split-squad games, but over the next couple of weeks, the three should see plenty of time together.

"Once we get settled, we'll try to play Hanley, Infante and Reyes together so they get used to each other," Cora said. "Not only Reyes, but Infante has to get used to Hanley as well. Hopefully, by the end of spring, they're ready to rock and roll. I don't expect otherwise."

A year ago, Ramirez and Infante were the Marlins' double-play combination.

"With Infante on the double play, we're working my arm angle from third base," Ramirez said. "I'm just working on that right now, and the long throw from the line."

Perhaps the most encouraging sign about the transition is that Ramirez has accepted the change. For weeks after Reyes signed as a free agent, there were reports that Ramirez was unhappy about the switch.

Since camp started, however, Ramirez has worked hard at his new position. He's also confident he can excel.

Can he be an All-Star third baseman?

"Why not?" he said. "The only thing I can control is going out there and doing my best and playing hard every day."

During the offseason, Ramirez fielded grounders in the Dominican Republic, often working out with Wilson Betemit. Now, how he handles third base will be one of the most-watched story lines for the Marlins this spring.

But changing positions isn't the only hurdle he is overcoming. Last September he had surgery on his left shoulder, so the Marlins have informed him to avoid diving in spring games.

Other ways the club hopes to keep Ramirez healthy and effective are through scouting reports and knowing hitters' tendencies.

"I think we're going to try to put him in the right place in the right position, to make sure he's not diving," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Obviously, when the game starts, you cannot control that."

Reyes is doing his part by stressing to Ramirez to play closer to the line. The speedy shortstop says he will cover the rest.

Third base is expected to be less taxing on Ramirez's body.

"You don't have to be moving a lot," Ramirez said.

Being positioned properly could help him determine when to dive to the backhand side. If he is near the line, he might not need to leave his feet, because the ball could be foul.

And the team wants Ramirez to make the play on grounders to the hole at short if possible.

"We told Hanley to go get it," Cora said on reachable grounders in front of Reyes. "We know Reyes is one of the best, with great range. But if Hanley gets it, he's just as good.

"Hanley will know when to go get the ball or when to let Reyes, and that is for Reyes, too. He will know when to let Hanley make the play. There are going to be rough patches, no doubt. But Hanley is a great athlete. Reyes is a great athlete. They should be fine."

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.