ST. PETERSBURG — For Harold Ramirez, arriving in Tampa Bay was a lot like returning home.
In the Rays, his sixth organization, the designated hitter/infielder/outfielder found a team that figured out how to maximize his talent and put him in positions to succeed. In the area, he found a community and geography that made him feel like he was back in his native Cartagena, Colombia.
“Tampa is a lot like Colombia,” Ramirez said. “I love the beaches and the weather. It reminds me of Colombia. They have a lot of Colombians here.
“And there are a lot of good Colombian restaurants, too,” he added, with a big smile and a laugh.
Acquired from the Cubs last March, Ramirez is feeling more at home entering his second season with the Rays. The team thinks that is reason to expect big things from the quiet 28-year old with electric blue hair.
“I think he was 20 at-bats short of being the lead in the batting race at one point. So there’s no reason to think why he can’t get there,” Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola said. “I never like to put ceilings on anything, but he actually did it. He just didn’t have enough at-bats.
“... His nickname — even other players who come in here call him — is ‘Barrel Ramirez,’ because that is what he does. He’s kind of a legend, because they saw him in winter ball. He’s hit everywhere he’s gone, so there is no reason to think that should stop.”
Ramirez was hitting .329 when he was hit on the hand by a pitch from the Orioles’ Jordan Lyles on July 17. The pitch fractured Ramirez’s right thumb, causing him to miss four weeks.
In the 42 remaining regular-season games after he returned, Ramirez hit .258 with a .287 on-base percentage and .344 slugging percentage.
“He was good,” Mottola said. “And then he got hurt and kind of pressed a little bit trying to get back where he was.”
Even with the injury, Ramirez finished the season with a .300 batting average, .343 on-base percentage and .404 slugging percentage. If he had the required at-bats, he would have finished tied for eighth in the American League batting race.
Ramirez admitted the injury hindered him a bit down the stretch.
“It felt OK to hold the bat,” he said, “And it was OK, but sometimes it was a little sore. But I needed to be out there. My team was trying to win a playoff spot.”
Ramirez experienced deja vu Wednesday against the Phillies — twice.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Philadelphia right-hander Taijuan Walker hit him in the elbow in his first at-bat and then on the left pinkie in his second. Manager Kevin Cash pulled Ramirez from Tampa Bay’s 6-2 win just to be careful.
“Unfortunately, I had it happen to me last year and I missed about 120 at-bats,” Ramirez said after the game. “So, I am a little careful with it, but thank God I feel excellent now.”
With the thumb fully healed, Ramirez, a right-handed hitter, is ready for a new challenge. He and Mottola think there is more than consistency to be found in his bat. There is more power to discover, too.
But it’s a delicate balance.
Ramirez has a pretty simple swing, which is why he is able to barrel the ball so consistently for average. Finding power means lifting the ball a little more. That bat path might mean taking some strikes that he otherwise wouldn’t.
“He is tinkering with finding some more power to the pull side,” Mottola said. “We’re trying to balance that with what he does. Well, he’s gonna have to accept some outs that usually would have been base hits, but now he’s searching for a little more power, which we want them to do, explore a little bit more, because we think it’s in there.”
Ramirez said he is comfortable with that risk with the Rays.
Signed as an international free agent in 2011 by the Pirates, he was traded to the Blue Jays in 2016 and released in 2018. He has been around the league, also spending time in the Marlins, Guardians and Cubs organizations, but now has a place to develop.
“Here, they gave me a lot of opportunity,” Ramirez said. “I like that they ask me to play first base and outfield and give me the chance to play. I feel like they don’t want to change me but help me get better.”
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.