CHICAGO -- Alexei Ramirez's game, while solid and productive, has not improved by leaps and bounds each season and nobody is aware of that more than the player himself.
Following a 2010 season when he hit 18 home runs, drove in 70 runs and delivered a .744 OPS, earning a Silver Slugger award in the process, the future looked astronomically bright. After all, Ramirez was 28 years old that season and looking to be rounding into his prime.
The White Sox surely noticed, which is why they locked their shortstop into a four-year, $32.5 million extension, even though he already was under contract for 2011. The extension kicked in last season, but the White Sox didn’t see the bang for their extra bucks that was expected.
Ramirez isn’t going to make any excuses. He had a nagging wrist injury toward the end of last season, but refuses to blame that for career lows in batting average (.265), home runs (nine) and OPS (.651).
“I do feel that I could have done more last year and I’m preparing myself really hard for this coming year,” Ramirez said through an interpreter.
Once rest improved the sore wrist, Ramirez hit his winter workouts with abandon. Clearly there is an edge about him now.
“I feel like 2007,” Ramirez said. “I feel like I just arrived. I feel like a rookie. I feel strong and I feel hungry to keep doing what I did when I got here and continue doing it this coming year.”
Like his double-play partner Gordon Beckham, Ramirez has yet to show significantly more than he did the year he burst onto the scene. In many ways, Ramirez is a better defender than he was then, but he hasn’t been able to match numbers like career highs of 21 home runs and 77 RBIs in 2007, not to mention that .792 OPS. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2007.
But getting better on offense isn’t his only goal. The White Sox can be one of the better teams in baseball with their defense up the middle, yet surprisingly, Ramirez feels like the weak link.
“One year together getting to know (center fielder Alejandro) De Aza, last year being his first full year with the team,” Ramirez said. “I think Gordon plays a great second base, De Aza plays a great center field. If I can be as good as them, then I think we are really a strong core defensively.”
Asked about the strengths of the team this weekend, manager Robin Ventura mentioned the pitching staff first. That comes as no surprise. Second, he mentioned the team’s defense.
“We’ve got to be able to catch the ball and help our pitchers out,” Ventura said. “I always believed in this. I don’t know any sport that doesn’t ring true, that defense doesn’t win.”
There doesn’t seem to be an area on the field where Ramirez won’t push himself during the upcoming season.
“Offensively I could have done more,” Ramirez said. “I could have hit more home runs. I could have driven in more runs. I could have got more hits. I can say I could have done more. And this year is going to be different because I’m going to try to contribute more.”