Hanley Ramirez has been labeled many things throughout his career.
A tremendously talented player, yes. And also a prima donna, a loafer and an underachiever.
But ask around the Dodgers clubhouse these days and a different description of Ramirez emerges.
“He is as tough a ballplayer as I’ve ever been around,” catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Ramirez played the National League division series in considerable pain, which was obscured by his batting .500 in leading the Dodgers to a three-games-to-one victory over the Atlanta Braves.
“You can’t think about that,” Ramirez said. “It’s showtime right now.”
A nerve problem in his back that slowed him late in the regular season continues to bother him. So does his left hamstring. His left shoulder, which underwent major surgery two years ago, still requires constant care.
On days of games, Ramirez arrives at the ballpark five to six hours before the first pitch. Dodgers trainers treat his back and legs and work to loosen his shoulder.
“Those trainers,” Ramirez said, “they’re keeping me on the field.”
When the Dodgers were thinking about acquiring Ramirez from the Miami Marlins last year, they examined how his shoulder problems might be affecting his performance. He was hitting for power, but the former National League batting champion’s average was down.
The Dodgers theorized that Ramirez’s range of motion was limited. Labrum surgeries, like the one Ramirez underwent, are designed to tighten shoulders. Adrian Gonzalez had a similar operation in October 2010 and said he has never fully regained his old swing.
The trainers now stretch Ramirez’s shoulder every day, even during games. The intent is to extend it as much as possible without dislocating it or tearing anything in it.
If the results are any indication, the treatment has worked marvels.
Ramirez batted .345 in the regular season, which was three points higher than what he hit to win his batting title in 2009. (Because Ramirez played in only 86 games, he didn’t qualify for the batting crown this year.)
“After I got here, the medical staff, man, they’ve been unbelievable,” Ramirez said. “I think they’re part of my success. I think I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.”
Ramirez’s presence on the field is as much a credit to his heart as is medicine. He was on the disabled list twice this season. He was sidelined on opening day because he broke his right thumb diving for a ball in the World Baseball Classic, an injury that required surgery. He returned to the disabled list in May with a strained left hamstring.
Both times, Ramirez returned sooner than expected. Both times, he was still hurting but convinced his then-last-place team that it should let him play.
“Some people fight not to play,” General Manager Ned Colletti said. “He fights to play.”
The Dodgers were reminded of that again last month.
After Ramirez’s back flared up, Mattingly played him sparingly with an eye toward the playoffs. In the Dodgers’ final 16 regular-season games, Ramirez started only six.
With the Dodgers holding a substantial lead over the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West, Ramirez said he understood. But the part of Ramirez that wanted to play overpowered his judgment. Soon, he was trying to talk his way back into the lineup.
Now that the postseason is here, Ramirez has no intention of sitting. And this time, Manager Don Mattingly is in agreement.
“He’s giving everything he has,” Gonzalez said. “He’s grinding it out.”
This wasn’t what Ramirez’s teammates in Miami used to say about him. Though Ramirez acknowledged that his mentality changed after he was traded to the Dodgers, he said he always played hard. Whatever the case, his reputation was that of a player who coasted on his talent.
His reputation might be changed, but the talent remains.
“There is no way to pitch him,” Ellis said. “He hits all kinds of different pitches, all kinds of speeds, he hits all different types of pitchers.
“He’s locked in and has been locked in the entire season unlike anybody I’ve ever been around. I’m so happy I get to watch him hit and not try to call pitches against him.”