Hanley Ramirez will try to play despite a fractured rib suffered when he was hit by a pitch in Game 1. (AP)
It’s bad enough for the Dodgers that they’re down two games to none in the National League Championship Series and have scored a grand total of two runs thus far. What’s worse for their pennant chances is that they’ll have to mount their comeback with two of their four best hitters — namely Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier — at far less than full health after being held out of the lineup in Game 2. Ramirez, who took a Joe Kelly fastball in the ribs in his first plate appearance in Game 1, was diagnosed with a fractured rib, but after donning protective padding and testing the injury prior to Monday’s game, he’s in the lineup, as is Ethier.
Ramirez got the green light to play after taking several grounders, hitting home runs during batting practice and huddling with team staff. Via Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:
When he was available during the regular season, Ramirez was the game’s most potent hitter; his 190 OPS+ (on .345/.402/.638 hitting) was three points higher than Miguel Cabrera’s 187 mark. Alas, the 29-year-old shortstop was limited to 86 games and 336 plate appearances due to a variety of injuries. A torn ligament in his right thumb, sustained during the World Baseball Classic, required surgery; between that and a left hamstring strain, he played in just four of the Dodgers’ first 56 games. In September, an irritated nerve in his back that affects his hamstrings limited him to starting six of the team’s final 16 games, though he might have played more had Los Angeles been fighting for a playoff spot instead of coasting home.
When Ramirez was in the starting lineup, the Dodgers went a sizzling 51-26 (.662) while scoring 4.22 runs per game; when he was not, they went 41-44 (.482) while averaging 3.81 runs per game. Despite his late-season absences, he was back in full force during the NLDS, demolishing Braves pitching at a .500/.556/1.063 clip with six RBIs in 18 plate appearances. The 95-mph fastball that Kelly hit him with in the first inning of Friday night’s game clearly caused him a great deal of pain, and he could also be seen squatting in the field between pitches, an indication that the nerve issue in his back was bothering him as well. Nonetheless, the Cardinals pitched him quite carefully, walking him three times in six plate appearances, including two intentional passes with men on base during extra innings.
Ramirez was in such pain prior to Game 2 on Saturday that he left Busch Stadium to get x-rays and never made an appearance. His x-rays came back negative, but further tests via CT scan once he returned to Los Angeles revealed a hairline fracture of his eighth rib on his left side. It could take a week or two for that to heal, but the Dodgers don’t have anywhere near that kind of time. He’s not in additional danger by playing through the injury; the issue is his pain tolerance and his ability to swing the bat.
Assuming he’s able to remain in the lineup, Nick Punto, who started Game 2, will stay on the bench. The 35-year-old switch-hitter is no kind of offensive threat unless a headfirst dive into first base is called for. In a relatively strong season by his standards, he batted .255/.328/.327 in 335 PA for an 87 OPS+ (76 is his career mark). He did augment that with strong defense (+6 Defensive Runs Saved in 49 games at short, + 10 runs in 116 games overall) and could see action late in the game for defensive purposes. Thus far in the series, he’s gone 1-for-4 with three strikeouts.
As for Ethier, he was the rock of L.A.’s outfield during the regular season, proving himself capable of manning centerfield amid an onslaught of injuries to his teammates and hitting .272/.360/.423 with 12 homers and a 122 OPS+, the fourth-highest mark on the team. Alas, he sprained his ankle on Sept. 13 and got just one more one plate appearance before the end of the regular season. He’s now reportedly suffering from shin splints, and was limited to pinch-hitting duty during the Division Series against the Braves; he went 0-for-3 with a walk, yielding to pinch-runner Dee Gordon once he did reach first base in Game 2. Skip Schumaker, who hit .263/.332/.332 in 356 PA for a 90 OPS+ during the regular season, played centerfield in Ethier’s stead and went 3-for-13 with a pair of walks during the NLDS.
Given three additional off days between their clinching against Atlanta and the start of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Ethier showed the Dodgers’ brass enough improvement in terms of his mobility that he started in centerfield in Game 1 of the NLCS. He played 13 innings in the field, but was unable to haul in Carlos Beltran’s third-inning fly ball, which turned into a two-run double; unhindered, he might have caught it. Ethier went 1-for-5 with a walk in the epic affair, yielding to Scott Van Slyke as a defensive replacement in the decisive 13th inning. He was sore enough in the aftermath to be held out of Game 2, while Schumaker went 0-for-3. During batting practice on Monday, he hit several line drives and a pair of home runs, according to Inside SoCal’s J.P. Hoornstra, but his defense appeared shakier:
Ethier’s range was limited, as he came up limping on a few particularly long runs to the gap. He chose not to jump for a ball that barely cleared the wall in right-center field. Ethier did not limp at any point while attempting to run the bases during batting practice, but he did not approach full speed.
Ramirez and Ethier will need help carrying the offensive load. The rest of the team is hitting .191/.239/.250. Yasiel Puig, who hit .471/.500/.529 in 17 PA during the NLDS, is 0-for-10 with six strikeouts, just one ball out of the infield and 11 runners left on base — seven of which were in scoring position.
BY JAY JAFFE