Red Sox

Hanley Ramirez Isn’t Manny Ramirez, but There’s No Doubt He’s Essential to Red Sox Hope

COMMENTARY

As fun as it has been through the first month of the Red Sox season to watch Hanley Being Manny, with dreadlocks, the helmet and the baseball flying in various directions after the latest gorgeous, violent right-handed swing, it bears noting that the former’s torrid first 25 games of 2015 don’t stack up to the latter’s best starts over an equal span.

Yep, that’s right: Among goofy, gifted, exhilarating and occasionally exasperating Red Sox left fielders named Ramirez, Hanley’s brilliant start to this season — a franchise-record-tying 10 homers in April, with 22 RBIs and a .283/.340/.609 slash line — would be a bronze-medalist, at best, to Manny’s personal bests.

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Consider: In his first 25 games with the Red Sox in 2001, Manny hit nine homers, drove in 31 runs, had 40 hits, slashed .408/.482/.735, had a ridiculous .508 (!!!) batting average on balls in play, and beat Mariano Rivera once when no one beat Mariano Rivera once. That’s how you introduce yourself to a new team.

In ’02, Manny was nearly as excellent. The home run and RBI totals were exactly the same through 25 games — 9, 31 — while he slashed .341/.491/.718. And get this: Hanley has a .949 OPS through 25 games. During his eight seasons with the Red Sox, Manny surpassed that through 25 games seven times, failing to do so only in 2007, when he struggled to a .641 OPS through May 1.

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So Hanley hasn’t quite been Manny. He’s been great, but he’s also served as a reminder that Manny had a knack for next-level greatness early in a new season.

Of course, none of this information does a damn thing to soften what happened Monday night at Fenway.

Hanley, the novice left fielder — he is actually worse than Manny was out there — ran shoulder-first into a cement-hard slab of irony. Didn’t he convert to left field to lessen the odds of injury?

Ramirez crashed into the wall just outside of the foul line while attempting to catch a James Loney fly ball in the first inning. He left the game wincing in obvious pain, and while the Red Sox say the injury is a sprained left shoulder with no structural damage and his status is day-to-day, it doesn’t yet feel like a bullet dodged.

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We’ll exhale when, and only when, he returns to the lineup.

If you expect it to be anytime soon, I admire your optimism, even as I suspect that it’s cloaking some denial.

No, maybe Hanley hasn’t quite been Manny. Hell, who is? Hanley being Hanley has been more than enough — he’s been essential, really, and his absence potentially devastating.

He leads the Red Sox in virtually every offensive category, and in his absence, multiple underperforming teammates are going to have to pick up the slack. David Ortiz needs to get his OPS over .800. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts both need to get theirs over .700, hopefully simultaneously. And Mike Napoli? Geez, let’s get it above .600 and work from there. A few hits with runners on from Dustin Pedroia would aid the cause as well.

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Hanley’s injury is a reminder that the Red Sox played roster roulette the proper way in spring training. Giving away Shane Victorino and Allen Craig — productive major leaguers not that long ago — for the sake of clearing roster space would have been foolish.

The depth has become necessary. Victorino is already hurt, but Craig should get regular at-bats to prove once and for all whether he can be useful again.

I don’t want to call that a small blessing, because there’s no blessing to be found in Hanley Ramirez’s absence.

I’m just saying that while a lot of ballgames have been lost recently, the cause is not.

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Hanley is out and the Red Sox are reeling 25 games into this thing, and yet itcouldbe worse.

Plenty of talent remains in that lineup as we endure their best bopper’s absence day-to-day for now. Hey, I guess that is a hell of a lot better than taking it week-to-week. If they lose him for the long term, that’s when they’ll be in real trouble.

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