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He's not yet talk of camp

Ramírez takes quiet approach as he settles in with Red Sox

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / March 7, 2009
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Ramon Ramírez stood at his locker, shifting left, then right. He looked around, as if unsure where he should be and what he should be doing. He had just put down his iPod, had already gone for his run, and still seemed as if he weren't comfortable in his surroundings.

He faced his locker again.

All around him, his teammates talked idly. Small groups sat here and there, at lunch tables in the middle of the clubhouse, at lockers on folding chairs. Ramírez did not join them.

It has been a slow transition for Ramírez, not only because of his tenuous grasp of English. He's shy, too, and not used to the bustle of the media, having come from a less cluttered clubhouse in Kansas City in the deal for Coco Crisp. On occasion, he has asked Manny Delcarmen - whom Ramírez has cited as being particularly helpful (along with Brad Penny) - to act as his interpreter. Delcarmen usually demurs.

"Just try," Delcarmen said he has told Ramírez. "I told him that's how you learn, just talking to the players. It won't be perfect English, and they won't understand perfect Spanish, but you'll find your own language, like Spanglish. That's how baseball is."

The soft-spoken Ramírez, 27, began taking English lessons at the start of spring training with fellow righthander Junichi Tazawa, but stopped when the team switched to City of Palms Park. He is conversational in English, understanding more than he can speak, and respectful of his teammates. In fact, he does not need to have questions translated, just his answers from Spanish to English in interviews.

"I haven't really talked to too many guys," Ramírez said through staff assistant Alex Ochoa. "I like to lay low and kind of respect everybody, what they have to do to get ready for the season. I'm happy that I'm here with all these guys, and guys that have been through the trenches, guys who have been through a lot. I have a lot I can learn from [them]. I'm just reserved in a sense of I don't want to bother guys when they're trying to get prepared for the season.

"Little by little, that will come."

With the trade in November, Ramírez joined a bullpen that could be one of the best in baseball, with four relievers (Ramírez, Justin Masterson, Hideki Okajima, and Takashi Saito) good enough to set up for Jonathan Papelbon.

And yet, since he has been with the Sox, Ramírez - generously listed at 5 feet 11 inches - has remained nearly invisible.

Except on the mound, where he gave up two home runs in his outing Tuesday against the Reds - "a changeup to [Jay] Bruce on a 3-and-2 pitch, the other was a fastball in a fastball count to [Edwin] Encarnacion, which is very uncharacteristic for him," pitching coach John Farrell said.

Those two home runs equaled the number of homers he gave up all of last season, in 71 2/3 innings with Kansas City.

He allowed another run yesterday, on a double-play ball after two singles in his one inning in a 5-3 win over the Marlins. Manager Terry Francona attributed that to "just trying a little bit too hard."

"Strike thrower," Francona said of the scouting report on Ramírez. "Doesn't back down. Real tough on righties. Look at his numbers outside of Coors Field [his home in 2006 and '07]. It's a really low ERA . . . Versatility in the bullpen, that's what's going to be helpful."

As for Coors Field, Ramírez has a 6.62 ERA in Colorado, and a 2.14 ERA elsewhere. Against righties, Ramírez allowed just a .153 batting average last season, the lowest in the American League among pitchers with at least 50 appearances, and the third lowest in baseball behind Carlos Marmol (.103) and Brad Lidge (.105). He tied for 18th in the American League with 8.79 strikeouts per nine innings (among pitchers with at least 65 innings).

Originally an outfielder, he converted to the mound soon after becoming a professional, Ramírez finally had a breakout season in 2008 - possibly because he finally left that Colorado altitude behind him. More than that, Ramírez seems to have also left some injury concerns behind him, saying, "The past is the past. Now I'm in the present. I feel good."

So, too, do the Sox, especially when looking at that bullpen, in which roles will vary based on the availability of relievers. As Farrell said, "He has that type of ability, that talent to serve as a setup guy." The club knows what he could bring to the staff.

"A lot of strengths," Farrell said, noting his power stuff, his strikeout ability, and his tremendous competitiveness, which will be integral parts of the bullpen.

And perhaps, in time, an integral part of the clubhouse, too.

"He's a little quiet, but he talks to me," Delcarmen said. "I'm pretty sure, little by little, he'll talk to everybody and open up. The best thing to do is just try to get him comfortable. I think, little by little, he's doing it."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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