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Ramos continues surge as Giants prepare for return of veterans

Ramos continues surge as Giants prepare for return of veterans originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Heliot Ramos visited Oracle Park as a 17-year-old after the 2017 MLB Draft, he smiled and said he hoped to be back in three years. Confidence has never been an issue for Ramos, but still, there has been a different look about him during this latest stint in the big leagues.

Ramos hit leadoff for the first time on Sunday, a reward for his continued production at a time when Bob Melvin doesn't know what he'll get from most of his hitters on a daily basis. The move paid off immediately, with Ramos hitting a solo homer and driving in two more runs with a single.

It was a lineup change that was a few days in the making, as Luis Matos' own hot start now is far back in the rearview mirror. Matos has struggled in the two weeks since being named NL Player of the Week, and on Sunday, Melvin flipped two young outfielders who helped jolt the Giants back to life in May.

For a couple of weeks, it looked like neither would ever return to the minors. There's a bit more uncertainty about that now, with Michael Conforto set to return from a rehab assignment and Austin Slater not far behind.

Conforto figures to slide back into a key role right away. But Melvin has not sounded in recent days like someone eager to take any at-bats away from Ramos, a player he didn't know very well before this latest outburst. Ramos was a very early cut in the spring, but he was one of the best players in Triple-A in April and through 23 games back in the big leagues he's hitting .286 with a .795 OPS.

"I think this has got to be his best work at the big league level and he's very inspired," Melvin said on Monday's Giants Talk Podcast. "Every single day he has looked like he's having some fun, and it's easy to say that, especially when you're playing well, but whether it's defensively (where) he has made some impact plays for us, offense he has made some impact plays. He's getting to play every day and he just looks like he's very energized with this opportunity and he's taking advantage of it."

Ramos got just 76 at-bats over his call-ups the previous two seasons, and at times it seemed like the Giants were almost going out of their way not to give him a look. At the end of last season, it was Ramos who was optioned for one day to clear a roster spot for Brandon Crawford's return and send-off, and this spring he was optioned to minor-league camp during one of the first rounds of cuts on March 11, well before some other young prospects who hoped to push for roster spots.

Ramos went to Triple-A and did what he had to, and he said that confidence has carried over.

"There's no excuses, no buts or anything like that. I just have to get the job done and try to do my best," he said. "The mentality is different. I'm just being positive, staying positive all the time, having a good mentality the whole time and having a plan the whole time and never getting out of that."

For the outside world, it might seem that Ramos has always had that mentality. He has been positive since that first day back in 2017, but he admitted that "saying it and believing it are two different things," something he had to learn after struggles in the big leagues.

"It takes time and it took a little bit of time," he said. "But I feel like I'm in a good spot right now."

Part of that mentality flipped in the offseason when Ramos became a father for the first time, and he said his daughter has helped him keep perspective after rough games. The physical tools have always been there for the 24-year-old, but he credits hitting coach Justin Viele and baseball operations analyst Mario Ferretti for being instrumental in helping him stick to a solid approach and make adjustments.

While Ramos still strikes out too much, he ranks well above average in metrics like exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, and he is balancing some of those strikeouts with a solid walk rate. Ramos also ranks slightly above average in left field.

Ramos was drafted as a center fielder, but the staff no longer views him as a real option there. That should benefit Matos, who was just 3-for-24 on the homestand. When Conforto returns, the Giants can occasionally slide Ramos over to right field and have Mike Yastrzemski play center. They also could use Conforto as the designated hitter given Jorge Soler's continued issues.

It's a puzzle, but one Melvin will happily take on. Far too often this season, he has seemed to have a dearth of logical lineup options. As Conforto ramped up early last week, the Giants lost LaMonte Wade Jr. to his own hamstring injury, a blow that put even more pressure on the young outfielders trying to fill in at the top of the lineup. Melvin said there has been "good and bad" during this prospect-led stretch.

"Good in the fact that you get to see guys and guys get opportunities," he said. "But also, we have some (injured) guys that in the offseason we acquired because we expect them to be in the lineup. It's a little bit of a balance. I'd like to be able to get some guys back and I think we're getting some guys back here pretty soon and I think that's a good thing. But we really haven't fallen off a whole lot as far as where we are in the standings."

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