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Hanley, strong finisher

Eddie Altamonte

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Ramirez's strong finish was key in 2006

02/20/2007 9:10 PM ET

By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com


JUPITER, Fla. -- Some words of wisdom really sunk in and inspired Hanley Ramirez's stellar rookie season.

In mid-June, while Ramirez was in the midst of an 0-for-29 slump, Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo offered a little advice.


"I told him it's not how you start, but how you finish," Olivo said. "Manny Ramirez said the same thing. What you do in September matters. Everything comes out in September."


Mindful of finishing strong, Ramirez mentally prepared himself to come up with a strong September. Certainly, the Dominican Republic native delivered, hitting .352 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in the month.


The fantastic finish helped springboard Ramirez to National League Rookie of the Year honors.


An all-around athlete, Ramirez enjoyed a well-rounded first full season in the big leagues. Batting leadoff, he hit .292 with 17 home runs and 59 RBIs. He added 46 doubles, 11 triples, 185 hits, 51 stolen bases and 119 runs scored.


At age 23, the shortstop has established himself as a team leader as well as one of the top leadoff hitters in the game.


His mission is to help the team win.


"That's what I'm going to really try to do this year," he said. "Anything I can do to help my team win. I just want to get on base and score some runs, and start from the first inning and go through the whole game."


Ramirez got some early work in at Spring Training, taking batting practice and participating in some fielding drills on Tuesday.


The Marlins first full-squad workouts will begin Wednesday morning at Roger Dean Stadium.


Somewhere down the line, the Marlins envision Ramirez as a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. For now, he's enjoying the leadoff role, where he emphasizes on-base percentage over slugging percentage.


Can he steal 60 bases?


"Hopefully," he said.


How about belt 25 home runs?


"We're going to work on it," he added.


What Ramirez wants to avoid is sacrificing on-base opportunities for power stats. He effectively did that as a rookie.


"There are so many things he did last year that I remember, but what impressed me the most is everybody is going to go into slumps," second baseman Dan Uggla said. "And Hanley started off great. He was one of the top five hitters in the league for about a month or a month and a half. But when he was down around the .250 or .260 mark, which isn't bad at all, he started being more consistent. And he ended up at .292. That's really hard to do with as many at-bats as he had. All of his numbers, his doubles and runs scored, you just look at it, and you just say, 'Wow.' "


Ramirez endured his roughest stretch during that 29 at-bat hitless slump.


The slide occurred from June 9-18. On June 7, he was batting .302, and his average plummeted to .264 nine days later.


The string came to an end on June 18 when he slapped a third-inning single off Toronto's Roy Halladay.


"When you get in a slump, you miss every pitch," Ramirez said. "You can't bunt. When you try to bunt, they throw you a slider in the dirt. It's something that is difficult. You just have to keep doing what you're doing."


Ramirez credits the support of his teammates for helping pull him through the difficult stretch.


"They were telling me, 'It's OK.' I had my teammates," Ramirez said.


Following his successful rookie season, Ramirez returned to the Dominican Republic where he was greeted by a big celebration.


Friends and family surprised him with a big party.


"Everybody was celebrating, they were waving the Dominican flag," Ramirez said. "We were outside my mom's house. We had some food. It was a great time."


Ramirez expresses his appreciation to the Baseball Writers Association of America, who voted him NL Rookie of the Year.


The award is with him at his South Florida home, and he is using it as inspiration for this season.


"I look at it every night," he said. "I told [the award], 'You're going to make me work harder this year.' "


The ever-confident Ramirez scoffs at those who bring up questions about a "sophomore jinx."


To the jinx theorists, Ramirez immediately responds: "Ryan Howard."


Howard, the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year, belted 58 home runs and won the NL MVP in 2006.


Ramirez aspires to be an MVP some day. Based on pure ability, he has the talent. Crucial for him to emerge as an elite player is staying healthy.


There was an injury scare at the end of December when he was playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. While trying to break up a double play, he fell on his left shoulder.


"My foot got stuck, and I just rolled over," Ramirez said.


An MRI exam was taken as a precaution, and his winter season was over. While Ramirez wanted to return to playing, the Marlins said no.


He started swinging a bat about a week later.


Ramirez plans to continue playing winter ball if he is allowed.


"You're facing a lot of big-league pitchers, and a lot of people who had been in the big leagues for a long time," he said. "They teach you how to play the game. I think it's very good. If the Marlins let me, I'd prefer to play. I wish they would let me play next year."

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