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Hanley Ramirez Playing a Lot of Baseball but Not Much Defense

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Hanley Ramirez Playing a Lot of Baseball but Not Much Defense
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Hanley Ramirez batting for the Dominican Republic in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

COMMENTARY | Hanley Ramirez loves to play baseball. That much is apparent with how much he's played since the end of the 2012 season.

Ramirez played winter ball in the Dominican Republic earlier this offseason before playing in the Caribbean Series (Friday through Thursday). He's also committed to playing in the 2013 World Baseball Classic (March 2 through 19) for the Dominican.

While he doesn't seem like the most durable player, Ramirez has played in nearly 90 percent of possible games in his major-league career. Save for an abbreviated 2011 campaign, Ramirez has never played fewer than 142 games in a season (2010). He also played in all 64 possible games after coming over from the Miami Marlins in the July trade that sent right-handed pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough to South Beach.

Entering his age-29 season, Ramirez has been playing baseball like he's a young player who's trying to improve his game, or an older player who's trying to get one more shot at the majors. Ramirez is neither of those.

It'd be one thing if Ramirez was playing to improve his defense at shortstop -- the position at which he should begin the 2013 season -- but due to a minor shoulder injury early on in winter ball, he didn't play there at all.

In the Caribbean Series, much like in winter ball, he isn't playing much shortstop. Instead, Miguel Tejada, who isn't likely to be confused for Ozzie Smith anytime soon, got the first crack at shortstop.

Ramirez did, however, get his first innings at shortstop on Monday. He was doing "fine" until late in the game. He committed an error that led to two runs for the Puerto Rican squad.

Ramirez is also slated to play in the WBC for the Dominican Republic, a team that also boasts Jose Reyes. So, no shortstop for Ramirez there, either. In fact, it'll be difficult for him to get on the field defensively because Adrian Beltre is set to man the hot corner for the Dominican. Fortunately, the Texas Rangers probably don't want Beltre playing every day in the field, so Ramirez might actually log some time at third during this tournament.

Playing so much offseason baseball should have been the perfect time for Ramirez to get familiar with shortstop again since, barring anything unforeseen, he'll be spending the vast majority of his games at the position. Instead, he's spent most of his time as a designated hitter. That's not to say Ramirez's bat couldn't use a little work, as he's struggled to the tune of .252/.326/.416 in the last two seasons.

If Ramirez was a glove-first shortstop, those offensive numbers would be acceptable. But Ramirez is known for his bat -- something that needs to be present in 2013 for the Dodgers to have an even more formidable lineup. This rings especially true if Ramirez is to hit leadoff for the Dodgers. That will likely be determined toward the end of spring training.

Ramirez isn't the 7-plus win player he was in 2008 and 2009, but he's absolutely better than the 4.3 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement total he's posted in the last two years.

Fatigue is also something Ramirez could face this season, considering how much baseball he's played in the last 11 months. He missed just five games during the regular season and has already played an additional 25 games between the Dominican Winter League and the Caribbean Series. Add in as many as nine or 10 games in the WBC and you're looking at another quarter of a season, plus whatever playing time he logs in spring training.

While the Dodgers have publicly supported Ramirez's decision to play in all these offseason leagues, they also have to be concerned about if this will actually help Ramirez this season. Thankfully, he's still in his prime and relatively young. But giving Ramirez a few games off a month couldn't hurt, especially if the Dodgers still have Dee Gordon or they find a suitable substitute third baseman for likely opening-day starter Luis Cruz on the days Ramirez is out.

Ramirez's defense is going to be a concern all season. If he hits enough, it won't matter much.

Dustin Nosler has followed the Dodgers from Northern California all his life. He's the founder of Feelin' Kinda Blue, a Dodger blog. He also co-hosts "Dugout Blues," a weekly Dodger podcast. Find him on Twitter @FeelinKindaBlue.

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