Hanley Ramirez has yet to make an appearance at first base this spring, something that’s barely on the radar for most Red Sox fans.

But it should be.

Though the plan this season is for newly lovable Hanley to do most of his work at designated hitter as the Sox transition to Life Without David Ortiz, there also is an expectation that occasional time at first base will be part of the arrangement.


Offseason acquisition Mitch Moreland will play first base most of the time, but Hanley will get the starts against left-handers. Somebody else – say, Chris Young – will be the DH.

Except Ramirez has been slowed all spring by a shoulder injury. He’s been able to swing the bat, but he hasn’t logged any time at first base other than taking lazy grounders off a coach’s fungo bat. The injury also kept him out of the World Baseball Classic.


Speaking with reporters Monday in Fort Myers, Florida, Red Sox Manager John Farrell said he expects Ramirez to be able to play first base once the team travels to Detroit following next week’s opening, three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park.

“I’m still hopeful of it, but without being cleared, I can’t write him in the lineup,” Farrell said. “I’m still with the intent that Hanley will be at first base at some point. That would ideally be if we get a left-handed starter at some point in the Detroit series.”

A year ago, skeptics abounded as Hanley Ramirez made the move from left field to first base. I was one of those critics, and a big one, and here’s why: Given the hellish manner in which Ramirez played left field in 2015, what evidence was there that he could play a passable first base?

But we never took into account that Ramirez would be “engaged” by playing first base. That was the official Exciting New Word for the 2016 Red Sox: engaged. By gabbing with his infielders, by high-fiving his pitchers at the end of each inning, by gleefully tossing baseballs to little kids sitting behind the dugout as he trotted off the field, this new and improved Hanley helped us forget that just one year earlier he was the worst defensive left fielder anyone had ever seen.

A sampling from last year:

Feb. 29: “We’ll get him comfortable and see how far off first base we can push him on certain shifts,” Farrell said. “As long as a player is consistently engaged in work, he not only can make plays but he can transition.”


March 7: “He’s been real receptive,” Sox infield coach Brian Butterfield told the Providence Journal. “I think he feels good about what we’re doing, and he’s engaged in his work.”

April 17: “He’s engaged, he’s having fun playing the game,” Farrell said to the Worcester Telegram.

And so it went like that, throughout the season. Hanley Ramirez was engaged. Hanley Ramirez was participatory. Hanley Ramirez was happy.

Hanley Ramirez tore the cover off the ball, with 30 home runs, a career-high 111 RBI, a .286 batting average and a .361 on-base percentage. That’s what then-general manager Ben Cherrington had in mind when the Sox signed him in the first place.

And now Ramirez is making the transition from being a mostly full-time defensive player to being a mostly full-time designated hitter. Can a player be “engaged” when he only has five plate appearances a night?

By its very definition, the job is sad and sullen. You are designated to hit. What you do with the rest of the time is up to you – taking BP under the stands, watching tape, sitting in the dugout watching the game, maybe catching a few Zs in the clubhouse. It sounds easy until you have to do it.

Ramirez has a .331 career batting average as a DH, but that’s in a tiny sample size of 155 plate appearances. We just don’t know if being disengaged from the playing field will hurt Ramirez.

That might explain why Farrell is so anxious to see him get some reps at first base.

It’s something you should keep an eye on as well. If it turns out Ramirez simply isn’t interested in playing first base anymore, that’s a problem.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: