Hanley Ramirez has ‘hunger of a rookie?’ It’s about time

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Look out world, Hanley Ramirez is ready to play hard this season.

No more fooling around for this kid. No more treating ground balls with that special Roger Dorn flair. No more strutting around like he taught Abner Doubleday the nuances of the game. No more spotting the pitcher a pitch or two in each at-bat.

Ramirez, the star shortstop of the Florida Marlins, is ready to rebound from a sub-par 2010 season in which his average dropped 42 points, his RBIs plummeted from 106 to 76 and his defense regressed from casual to careless.

With spring training only two weeks away, the enigmatic star is ready to return to the form of 2009 that nearly netted him the NL MVP award. He says he “has the hunger of a rookie,” and started his offseason workouts a month early, according to a report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

“Everyone will be very surprised with the new Hanley and his whole makeup,” manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He is very motivated. He was very disappointed in his season. He knows the whole offense revolves around him.”

Good for him. It’s heartwarming to see a three-time All-Star who is about to make $11 million decide that unlike last year, this time he really means business. These sorts of stories always make me wonder why he wasn’t motivated before? Perhaps it’s a matter of being too good too soon, and you just assume you’re going to hit .340 and drive in 100 every year. It just comes that easily. Or maybe it’s a matter of looking at the prospect of making $57 million over the next four seasons and feeling pretty happy with yourself.

Either way, Marlins fans are going to be facing years of frustration if their best player has to remember to be motivated every of couple of seasons. Ramirez is obviously a great talent, and even a down season like 2010 translated into an OPS+ of 124. But he’ll have to realize at some point that you can’t get by on talent alone. Otherwise you end up like Shawn Kemp, and nobody wants to see that.

Jackson reports that last year, opposing pitchers figured out that a steady diet of sinking pitches down-and-in would hold Ramirez in check, and the Marlins star never adjusted. And then there is the issue of his attitude, which some teammates perceive – according to Jackson – as moody.

Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson put it this way late last season: “When he’s struggling, he’s humbled and more approachable and communicative and you see a different makeup. When he’s on a hot streak, you see a lot of swagger. Some players don’t like that and call it selfishness or ‘hot dog.’ … You have to always show interest in teammates when they are struggling.”

There’s nothing wrong with a little humility. And knowing what a joy it is to watch Ramirez at his best, one can only hope that his new-found motivation has a lasting impact.

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Steven Matz likely to start season on DL; Zack Wheeler to adhere to innings limit

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Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.

On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.

Rockies sign 30-year lease to stay in Coors Field

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Nick Groke of the Denver Post reports that the Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, which is the state division that owns Coors Field. As part of the deal, the Rockies will lease and develop a plot of land south of the stadium, which will cost the team $125 million for 99 years.

As Groke points out, had the Rockies not reached a deal by Thursday, March 30, the lease would have rolled over for five more years.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort issued a statement, saying, “We are proud that Coors Field will continue to be a vital part of a vibrant city, drawing fans from near and far and making our Colorado residents proud.”

The Rockies moved into Coors Field in 1995. It is the National League’s third oldest stadium. In that span of time, the Rockies have made the playoffs three times, the last coming in 2009 when they lost in the NLDS to the Phillies. The Rockies were swept in the 2007 World Series by the Red Sox.