The first home run of Harold Ramirez’s career back in May followed the same sort of pattern most of his hits did back then. With his extreme closed stance, the outfielder got out in front of a pitch and punched the ball out toward right field, only this time it sailed out of Comerica Park in Detroit.
At the time, it was the signature moment of his young career, a near-perfect encapsulation for why the Miami Marlins felt he was an interesting enough prospect to give a significant role on the MLB roster. He topped all his other signature moments Thursday when he pulled a home run 364 feet over the left-field fence at Marlins Park to give Miami a walk-off win against the Cincinnati Reds.
Not even 24 hours later, Ramirez hit another homer in the first inning of a 7-6 loss to the Washington Nationals on Friday in Washington. For the first time in his career, the rookie homered in back-to-back games, giving him nine for the season after he hit only one in his first 29 games.
“I think there’s more than what we’ve seen and it depends how consistent that gets, but Harold’s been pretty good and he’s got power to all fields, so it’s not like this is a guy that can’t hit the ball out of the ballpark or has to pull a homer down the line to get one,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We’ve seen them to center, we’ve seen them to right, we’ve seen them to left, so he’s a guy that has potential.”
Ramirez’s long-term role with Miami (48-86) might hinge on his ability to unlock this part of his potential while opportunities are bountiful. A 7:05 p.m. game against the Nationals (75-58) on Saturday at Nationals Park is the 93rd of Ramirez’s career and he’s a fixture in the Marlins’ lineup despite a pedestrian .719 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He has been brilliant at times -- he batted .368 in the first month of his career and maintained a .300 average until July -- and just average, or worse, at others.
Right now, he’s in the midst of one of his best runs of the season. Since his batting average dipped to .261 on Aug. 15, Ramirez has gone 16 for 46 with three doubles and the two home runs. Mattingly has seen Ramirez ditch some of the worst habits he leaned on early int he season to become a more complete hitter, even if he isn’t pushing .400 like he was in May.
When he arrived from Triple A New Orleans, Ramirez stuck with a stiff closed stance and was content to hit groundball after ground ball through the hole for singles to the right side of the field. Pitchers eventually adjusted and started pounding Ramirez inside, so the right-handed hitter had to make his first Major League adjustment. He straightened out his stance and focused on elevating the ball.
In his first month in the Majors, Ramirez posted a 73.9-percent groundball rate with just a 13-percent line drive rate. In August, he’s hitting grounders just 56.9 percent of the time and hitting liners at a 19.8-percent rate.
“He’s got power. I think the adjustments he’s making more mechanically allow that to be more consistent,” Mattingly said. “He was really crossed over. He had a closed, really wide stance. He’s kind of straightened that up, which allows more freedom to more balls.”
For the second half of August, Ramirez found how to drive the ball without hampering the contact rate which made him such a valuable contributor at the start of the season. His hard-hit rate is up to 41.4 percent in August and his slugging percentage since Aug. 15 is .543, up from .390 before then.
It all gives Mattingly reason to think Ramirez might not have to settle for just being a player who maybe pushes 20 home runs a season. The 5-foot-10, 220-pound athlete has some natural power with an all-fields approach and he’s putting it to use as he continues to learn who he is as a hitter.
“Just the fact that he’s making adjustments tells you that he’s got a pretty decent feel for hitting. As those adjustments continue, you don’t want to sell anybody short,” Mattingly said. “He’s still 24 years old and a guy that’s probably still on the rise and not necessarily at the end of his potential.”