The Dodgers are already waiting on one hamstring injury, as Matt Kemp works his way through simulated games in Arizona in hopes of returning in time for the postseason. But after Thursday night another hamstring injury has pushed to the forefront, as Hanley Ramirez was removed with mild tightness in his left hamstring.
The team said the move was precautionary but that doesn't mean it's not time to panic. Steve Dilbeck at the Los Angeles Times captured the tone perfectly:
I think the Dodgers should be nervous. If you can’t run, you can’t play. And right now, Ramirez apparently can’t run. At least not without risking greater injury.
Ramirez has been the Dodgers' best hitter this season, hitting .342/.390/.634 with 18 home runs and 25 doubles in 79 games. That's roughly half a season, and it's not hard to get excited about a shortstop with 36 home runs and 50 doubles. There have only been four shortstops in history with 30 home runs and even 40 doubles in a season: Cal Ripken (1991), Alex Rodriguez (1996), Nomar Garciaparra (1997) and Miguel Tejada (2004).
But that's the concern, that Ramirez has only played half the season. He missed the first 24 games of the season after dislocating his thumb, and missed another 28 games with a strain of the very hamstring that is tight now, even mildly so.
The hamstring has been bothering Ramirez for a couple of days, per Austin Laymance and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
Mattingly said before the game that Ramirez was "taking care of himself," a concession to his jogging out routine grounders. But Ramirez jogged so slow in the fifth inning that Mattingly suspected the injury had worsened.
"Slower than usual," he said. "On the hit, seemed like there was a little hitch, but it's tough to see because he's got that swagger. But he said something to the trainer. It was a combination of that and going down the line slower than normal."
The Dodgers are 47-24 (.662) when Ramirez starts this season, and 39-36 (.520) when he doesn't. The team has scored 4.30 runs per game with Ramirez in the lineup and 3.87 runs per game when he isn't.
Tony Jackson at Dodger Scribe had a less worrisome view of Ramirez's hamstring tightness:
We were told the move was precautionary. I’m assuming it was the type of "precautionary" that happens when you have a really big lead in September and you’re trying not to get anybody hurt before the playoffs. If this were a pressure-packed game, Hanley might have played through it.
At the very least, Ramirez provides a nice recovery blueprint for Kemp, who has on the whole essentially had a lost season, hitting just .263/.319/.382 with five home runs in 62 games after offseason shoulder surgery. Ramirez had shoulder surgery in September 2011 and is back two years later as one of the best players in baseball, though one who has played a little more than half the time.
There's every reason to believe that in the long term Kemp will eventually return to becoming the dynamic presence in the lineup that he once was, and that Ramirez is now. That belief turns to hope in the short term, hoping Kemp's .324/.390/.622 line in the 11 games he has played in the last three months will transform into playoff success, either as an occasional starter or as baseball's best October bench weapon.
But for now, with 16 regular season games remaining that serve more as a countdown than anything, we wait and we worry about Kemp and Ramirez.
And we hope.