Hanley Ramirez. (Steve Mitchell/Getty Images Sports)
The question put before Hanley Ramirez was simple.
“Would you rather hit .330, or hit 35 home runs?”
The answer was quick.
“No question, .330.”
The Red Sox first baseman then elaborated.
“I don’t want to think about homers,” Ramirez said. “I’m not a home run hitter. I hit homers. That’s the difference.”
It has been a big difference. Last year at this time, Ramirez had 10 home runs. This season’s first month? Just one.
“I forgot for a couple of years. I was trying to launch everything,” said of his previous all-or-nothing approach. “But now I just want to hit for average, and the homers will come.”
The change has been noticeable, with Ramirez limiting his leg kick while executing a much more compact swing. Gone are the enormous, one-hand follow-throughs, and in their place are opposite field-focused cuts. (It’s interesting to note Ramirez’s average launch angle — the vertical angle the ball leaves a player’s bat — is half the major league average, suggesting more line-drives and ground balls.)
It was a change in philosophy he made in the offseason after listening to “The hitting guy that I have inside me.”
“It’s better for my shoulders,” Ramirez said. “It feels a lot shorter. I want a shorter swing. It’s more compact. It’s two different hitters, using the bottom hand and top hand. I went from top hand my first couple of years in the big leagues, to the bottom hand after the first three or four years, when I hit 30-plus homers. But now I want to go back to top hand.”
It has worked for Ramirez in the past, with the righty hitter managing a .300-or-better batting average in his first four full major league seasons. Included in that run was a 2009 batting title (hitting .342), in which he finished April with just two homers but totaled 24 for the season.
And while that’s the hitter he wants to get back to, the on-base consistency that was a constant throughout those early years has eluded him in the first month. Ramirez is hitting .283, but carries just a .689 OPS.
With what has been consistent defense at first base, and the Red Sox living life in first place in the American League East, the public has been patient while Ramirez finds his way offensively. He is, after all, still carrying better OPS’ than fellow first basemen Edwin Encarancion, Jose Abreu, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols.
And, for now, Ramirez is staying with the approach, convinced that the shock and awe of last April was not the way to go.
“Yeah, I was focused to much on hitting home runs. It was awful,” he said. “This offseason I was like, ‘No. I’m going to hit .378.’
“I just want to be in the lineup every day and go out there and compete. Just stay healthy. That’s the key. I feel more consistent with my swing. I feel good.”