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Ramirez keeps focus, waits for next opportunity to contribute

by Jason Coskrey

It’s the waiting that’s the hardest part for Alex Ramirez. The wait for the next at-bat, for the next opportunity to contribute to the Yokohama BayStars, for another chance to show there is still life in his bat.

The BayStars’ final interleague series of the year, a two-game set at Seibu Dome over the weekend, yielded just one pinch-hit at-bat for Ramirez, and trips to the plate will continue to be scarce as Yokohama returns to Central League competition, where the designated hitter is not used, later this week.

Ramirez isn’t used to not playing. For over a decade, he was an indispensable part of lineups for three franchises — including on a pair of Japan Series-winning teams. Now he doesn’t know when the next at-bat will come.

Then again, he also isn’t used to being in a slump as severe as the one he’s currently mired in. A slump that, combined with defensive issues, has consigned the outfielder to a place on manager Kiyoshi Nakahata’s bench.

“I can’t blame anybody for me not hitting,” Ramirez told the Japan Times. “The bottom line is, I’m not hitting, I’m not producing. These are the consequences. Right now I’m not playing too much, and that’s the reason why. I’m not producing for the team.

“Japanese baseball is ‘what have you done lately,’ and it doesn’t matter what I have done in my 13-year career here in Japan. I’m not producing right now. The best thing is to be on the bench.”

The season has been a grind for Ramirez, who is hitting .194 with a pair of home runs and 13 RBIs in just 132 at-bats.

With his playing time diminished, Ramirez has made himself useful in other ways. He’s the first out of the dugout to give support and congratulate his teammates during games, and has been lending a helping hand to Nyjer Morgan, Takehiro Ishikawa and other Yokohama players.

As for his own situation, Ramirez remains eternally positive and is determined to make the most of his next opportunity.

“I think this is probably one of the good things about me,” he said. “I adjust well to Japanese baseball. There is nothing I can do. It’s shoganai (it can’t be helped). I have to just be ready whenever the manager needs me ready to play. The days that I’m not playing, I’m going to cheer for my teammates.

“I do what I can. I’m preparing myself pretty well, just waiting for the right time.”

The right time may never roll around in Yokohama, but Ramirez could still find his way into another lineup.

According to a report by the Hochi Shimbun last week, the Chiba Lotte Marines were exploring the idea of trading for Ramirez with the intention of installing him in the cleanup spot as a designated hitter.

“It’s a great feeling to know there are a couple of teams interested in me and in giving me the opportunity to be an everyday player again,” Ramirez said. “I strongly believe that I can hit 20 home runs in the second half of the season and finish up strong as I always do.

“I love DeNA and I came here for a reason. But if this team is not going to use me, and another team is willing to use me, I think it’ll be a great idea for me to go to another team and finish there.

“Like I said, I love this team. I want to be here, but I also want to play. I want to be able to play and show that I can still produce at a high level.”

For now, Ramirez is focused on doing what he can for the BayStars. He’s not bitter about his current circumstance, and says he’ll be ready when and wherever his number is called again.

“I have a strong belief in God, and God is in control,” Ramirez said. “There are a lot of things you can’t control, but as long as you put your trust in God, just let it be. This year, it’s just the situation that I’m in. I just gotta continue doing what I can, doing my best every single day, being professional and showing my leadership here in the dugout.”