Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has no qualms about playing Hanley Ramirez at shortstop all season.
"Hanley can do this," Mattingly said, "if he puts his attention on playing defense and does what we're asking him to do. That's being the best player he can be at short. We're not asking him to be Omar Vizquel. We're not asking him to be Ozzie Smith. We're just asking him to catch the balls he's supposed to catch and make the plays he supposed to make, turn the double plays he's supposed to turn."
Ramirez was a shortstop his entire career until last season, when Miami moved him to third base to make room for free agent Jose Reyes. But it wasn't long before the dominoes began to fall. After changing positions, Ramirez changed teams when the struggling Marlins traded him to the Dodgers on July 25 in a multiplayer deal.
In August, he was back at shortstop. But it wasn't a smooth transition for Ramirez, who acknowledged that he struggled in his old spot.
"I know I can do better than that," he said. "Moving in the middle of the season was different. I was pretty much a third baseman when the deal happened. It's harder to go from third to short than it is from short to third. Angles are different. It's a different perspective. The timing is different and, to me, that's what this game is all about: timing."
A three-time All-Star and the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, Ramirez was once one of baseball's brightest young phenoms. Flashing a rare combination of power and speed, he stole 51 bases in each of his first two seasons and hit 33 homers while scoring 125 runs in 2008. He signed a $70 million, six-year contract with the Marlins that runs through 2014 and then batted an NL-best .342 with 106 RBIs in 2009.
But his production has dropped off dramatically the past two years, when he was supposed to be in his prime. He hit .257 last season with 24 home runs and 92 RBIs.
The 29-year-old Ramirez arrived early for spring training this year. He was taking grounders at Camelback Ranch last Tuesday when pitchers and catchers reported for camp. He said wanted to get a head start on preparing himself for what Mattingly believes is his natural position.
"He's a guy who really has a chance to be the best player on the team," Mattingly said Monday. "I don't have to move him. Hanley will move himself, if I have to do that."
Ramirez would have started his work at shortstop during winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but he played in only two games because of a shoulder injury sustained in a collision at the plate. The shoulder, he said Monday, is healthy.
Ramirez's time in Dodgers camp will be curtailed by the World Baseball Classic. He has committed to play for his home country, the Dominican Republic.
"I'm just happy to be there, representing my country," Ramirez said. "I mean, in the Dominican Republic, it's about baseball all of the time. Baseball is all anybody talks about. We're expected to play and expected to win it all."
With Ramirez at shortstop, Luis Cruz is projected as the Dodgers' starting third basemen. If that doesn't work out, the Los Angeles could turn Cruz into a utility infielder and put Dee Gordon back at shortstop.
Right now, it appears Gordon is headed to Triple-A Albuquerque after an offseason of trade rumors. But Mattingly still has plenty of confidence in him.