CLEVELAND: Going into spring training, Jose Ramirez wasn’t the likeliest of hitters to be slotted into the middle of the Indians’ lineup on a regular basis. But two months into this season, he’s starting to stick in the No. 5 spot.
Ramirez has batted everywhere in the lineup except the cleanup spot. With Michael Brantley still on the disabled list, Ramirez has found a temporary home as the No. 5 hitter behind Mike Napoli. Including Friday night, he’s hit fifth 12 times, twice as many starts this year as any other spot one-through-nine.
How has Ramirez worked his way into such an important spot? He’s hitting well in general with a .287 batting average and .350 on-base percentage to go with three home runs, nine doubles and 18 RBI, making him one of the more productive hitters on the team. But he’s been especially dangerous with runners in scoring position, hitting .370 with a .419 on-base percentage.
“That’s why we’re hitting him fifth,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t think he looks like the prototype No. 5 hitter, but what our thinking is, if there’s runners on base, he’s going to give you a good at-bat.”
It’s allowed the Indians to keep Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot more often than not, as he generally will have the most walks on the team.
“If you look at it from the outside-in, it looks like maybe we have it backwards with Santana and Ramirez,” Francona said. “But if they’re both swinging the bat OK, Santana’s going to walk more and Jose strikes out less.”
Ramirez began this season without a real position, though Francona repeatedly said they wanted to look for ways to get him into the lineup. For now, he’s planted right in the middle.
Ramping up soon
Brantley began swinging a bat again this week after receiving an anti-inflammatory shot in his surgically repaired shoulder and being placed on the disabled list for the second time.
If all continues to go well, the Indians can begin to increase Brantley’s workload, though they won’t be aggressive with it. He’s already had two setbacks and the Indians can ill-afford a third.
“We’ve really been pretty not aggressive with this,” Francona said. “We wanted to let this [anti-inflammatory] shot do its work. Now, we’ll start to ramp him up. We want him to get better and stay better, so we’ve been a little bit cautious the first nine or 10 days [since the shot].”
Carlos Carrasco is scheduled to throw four innings — about 60 pitches — for the Double-A RubberDucks on Saturday. Carrasco is working his way back from a strained left hamstring he sustained in Detroit.
“By all accounts, he’s raring to go,” Francona said. “We just need to make sure that he can field his position, cover first, not think about that while he’s pitching. By all accounts, he’s doing great. So, we’re just trying to get him stretched out again. He’ll come quick.”
When asked if Carrasco needed to be stretched out to 100 pitches before he returns, Francona said the Indians didn’t “need” do that. Carrasco is now within the window from his original timetable for a return. If all goes well, the Indians won’t be without their No. 2 starter for much longer.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.