Hanley Ramirez is Heating Up


Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Hanley Ramirez makes the force out at first against the Arizona Diamondbacks in a recent game. Since coming off the disabled list he has also hit .409. Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to his last few weeks at-bat, Hanley Ramirez is the hot brand of Cheetos, as fiery as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as scorching as five-alarm Tabasco sauce. Amazingly, as teammate Yasiel Puig‘s batting average began to decline to the low .400s, Ramirez actually passed him. Wonder when the last time a Major League team had two .400 hitters in its day-to-day lineup in July.

Yeah, yeah, neither one of them played a full schedule to get here, but there’s no doubt that for the last little while they have been stroking the ball as if they were Rogers Hornsby and George Sisler, two of the esteemed .400 hitters of yesteryear. Is it any surprise the Los Angeles Dodgers have actually begun to win some games headed into the All-Star break? We will not be counting on either Puig or Ramirez to hit .400 for the season, but they have been pretty big sparks for a team that was wallowing in the doldrums.

We have all been ga-ga over Puig and part of that has been because Puig was a veritable unknown, playing in the low minors, before exploding onto the Major League scene a little more than a month ago. Ramirez, not so very long ago a batting champion, has been scuffling of late, first with lousy performances, then with being traded, and following that up with injury problems.

As of Thursday, however, we have seen an interesting alignment of the stars. The Dodgers, of whom so much was expected coming out of spring training, have hit the .500 mark with 45 wins and 45 losses. And, as it so happens, as of that moment, both Puig and Ramirez had played in the same number of games. Rather astoundingly, after each had participated in 35 games, Ramirez’s stats were even more impressive than Puig’s. That’s a little bit surprising since we all thought Puig was the second coming of Babe Ruth.

Puig had eight home runs, 19 runs batted in, and was hitting .394 after his first 35 games. Ramirez had eight home runs, 24 runs batted in, and was batting .409 after his 35 games. Well. Guess Hanley is back being the Hanley everyone said he was and would become.

At 29, the 6-foot-2 and 225-pound shortstop/third baseman is in his ninth big-league season. His lifetime average is still .302, but his .342 National League-leading batting average for the Florida Marlins was recorded in 2009. Ramirez hasn’t been either consistent or lucky ever since. Although he hit .300 in 2010, Ramirez hasn’t been within telescope range since. He has underachieved spectacularly, made himself unwelcome in Miami, and then injuries wrecked whatever intentions he had of making a good first impression on the Dodgers.

Now, however, his second impression is waking up the entire league. He and Puig deserve a heap of credit for shaking up the Dodgers and jump-starting this surge.  It’s not clear how long either man can keep up this level of super play, but if they merely settle down into producing like normal stars then Los Angeles might well become a second-half pennant contender.

Instead of being buried in the NL West, they’ve got a fighting chance to make something out of the 2013 season.