Shoulder injuries don’t have to be damning for hitters. Look at the 469-foot home run Hanley Ramirez decimated Saturday in a 7-4 loss to the Cubs.
Yes, he’s gotten off to a slow start. Through 19 games played, he has two long balls.
But he had just one homer through the same number of games in 2016. He’s hitting .250 now. A year ago at this point, he was hitting .266.
“Last year, Hanley started slow,” hitting coach Chili Davis said prior to the Cubs series. “I watched him, work, and work, and work, and work, and you know, he didn’t abandon what he was working on. He didn’t abandon it, he stuck with it and he perfect ed it. And when he perfected it, he went off. He’s still working.
“Timing, consistency with timing, and it could be partially the shoulder bothering him.”
At least eight times in his career, Ramirez has been considered day-to-day or gone to the disabled list because of a shoulder injury. He partially dislocated his left shoulder, his lead shoulder, in 2007.
Hey, did you notice it was 83 degrees at first pitch Saturday?
“When it’s cold, and you’ve got bad joints, it affects you,” Davis said during the week. “When it warms up, it loosens up more.”
Davis knows better than most how to handle shoulder pain, how to be a successful power hitter despite it. The former switch-hitting slugger has a metal screw in his left shoulder after a 1986 surgery.
“For 13 years I played with it,” Davis said. “It was multiple dislocations. I slipped down some stairs in Riverfront Stadium. Grabbed a rail, and dislocated it. It dislocated like five times after this. It was so loose.”
Davis, now 57 years old and last a big leaguer in 1999, still has the screw in that shoulder. Today they make dissolvable ones, but didn't back then.
Believe it or not, Davis believes the surgery helped his righthanded swing. He was a switch-hitter, and batting righty, he liked to hook the ball.
“I’d get out and around,” Davis said. “And then I realized I had to use my top hand more. … It created power the other way for me. It was ridiculous how that happened. I mean, it was ridiculous.
“Because if you really think about it, [the right] is my strong hand. I do everything with this hand, I eat, I’m a right-handed guy. … Everything right-handed was all over the field.”
Davis said hitters are always aware of their health situations. He remembers coming back from ankle surgery and the bad habits he created. The day he finally let himself act normally, he heard a pop. But it wasn’t trouble: it was merely scar tissue breaking up.
The shoulders are, of course, important. But Davis explained that a swing where the shoulders do most of the work is probably not ideal.
“People talk to connection with the backside, feel that connection. Well, that connection creates synchronicity,” Davis said. “Yeah, it creates some power, but you can try to feel connection and lose your hands, your hands get lost in the process. So they got to work perfect together.
“But the bigger muscles, to me, were the stop muscles for me. If I was going to swing and I went to stop, that’s when I felt these things holding me back, or the connection holding me back. So just from experience alone, yeah, if the shoulders are involved in your swing, then you’ve got a long swing and your hands aren’t going to work the right way.”
There was a moonshot Saturday that suggested Ramirez’s hands are working properly, and that his shoulder pain won't mean a drop-off from last year necessarily.
“I think at times he may [be compensating],” Davis said. “He’s working on things. If he wasn't working, if he came in the cage during BP and I didn’t think that he was working on something, then I’d have a problem with that. But he’s working, and last year he worked and worked and worked until it clicked. So, I’m hoping the same thing happens this year.”