Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Ramirez shines with his mind at ease
By Doug Padilla
CHICAGO -- Alexei Ramirez has found a comfort zone again, and that, more than anything, could describe how he went from a disappointing 2013 to the best hitter in baseball two weeks into the current seasons.
It's much more complicated than that, of course. It always is. But Ramirez's revival to start the season has been all about the subtleties. His approach at the plate is the same, his swing philosophies are only slightly altered and his strategies for dealing with early-season cold have remained how they always have been.
Alexei Ramirez is off to an unusually fast start on offense, but he says he's approaching the game the way he always does.
But there is clearly a sense of urgency that Ramirez has now, and one that seemed to be missing a year ago when his world crashed around him. In spring training last year, Ramirez's father-in-law was murdered in the Dominican Republic, and the ripple effect seemed clear.
Ramirez won't link that situation to his play on the field last year, but it seems obvious that he has found some closure.
"The loss of a family member -- and a close and important family member like him -- you never forget it," Ramirez said through an interpreter Tuesday. "But the family is surviving and the family is doing well. We try to remember the great moments we had with him, the good moments from his life that we spent together, but you never forget that. That's never out of your mind, losing someone that you love so much."
Clearly there is a sense of confidence surrounding Ramirez now. His .420 batting average before Tuesday's game doesn't figure to last, nor does his whopping 1.143 OPS, but the longer he keeps his confident play, the better off the White Sox will be.
And the difference isn't only on offense. After making a career-high 22 errors last season, Ramirez looks more settled on defense as well.
As far as his early-season acclaim, though, it's his offense that is getting all the attention. April has never been Ramirez's month to shine, but that has all changed this year.
"It's just developed, I think," he said of his opening-month turnaround. "If one prepares himself and gets himself ready and plays with a passion, you're going to have good things happen. This has been a great start for me, but I can't say there's one thing or the other. I'm just thankful that I'm being blessed that I started out this way."
New hitting coach Todd Steverson has instilled the team with a new patient hitting approach that emphasizes strike-zone recognition. In other words, hitters will have more success swinging at pitches that are strikes instead of balls. Simple enough.
That strategy might be working for others, but Ramirez has continued his aggressive ways. On Sunday, the day of his game-ending home run, he put the first pitch in play in each of his four at-bats. And while he saw four pitches in four trips to the plate, Paul Konerko saw five in his one pinch-hit appearance.
He was asked if there was anything Steverson has been able to put into his own game.
"There's nothing specific," Ramirez said. "He's given me some advice: keep staying back on the ball a little bit, but I have my routine that I have with Harold [Baines] that I've had since last year. Harold and I go in the cage and we work on some things, but Steverson has given me some advice, the main one being staying back a little bit, waiting on the ball."
On the criticism that he hasn't hit the home runs that were expected of him, Ramirez brushes it off saying he's not a power hitter. When it comes to hitting in either the No. 8 spot or the No. 2 spot, he says he doesn't care, that he will approach his at-bats the same.
Maybe Ramirez's secret is that he refuses to overanalyze things. Asked about the new higher-energy White Sox offense, he shrugs.
"You can only ask God that because we're doing all the things we did last year, and as far as I'm concerned, my work, I'm doing exactly the same things I did last year," he said. "I had a lot of doubles last year, not a lot of home runs, but those are things you don't control. Things just happened this way. I'm thankful for what we're doing right now, but I can’t really tell you why."