FORT MYERS, Fla. -- More than halfway through spring training, an evolution is taking part in Red Sox camp. It's becoming a bit more noticeable with each passing day.
It's possible, just possible, that the Hanley Ramirez transition to first base may actually be succeeding.
In the past week, Ramirez has begun showing more confidence at his adopted spot. On Monday, he did a fine job digging a low throw out of the dirt. On Tuesday night, he came off the bag to grab an errant throw across the diamond from third baseman Pablo Sandoval, deflty applying a tag to the baserunner. And on the same night, he wisely performed a neat drop step to better handle a ball that appeared ready to bounce past him.
On Wednesday night, Ramirez again sparkled. He cut off a throw from the outfield in the second and threw out a runner trying to advance to second. Later, he made a diving stop near the first base line to take away a double from Joe Mauer, before feeding a throw to Clay Buchholz covering for the out.
"Hanley is doing a very good job at first base,'' said John Farrell. "Balls in the dirt, responsibility to the position, particularly with men on, he's getting additional reps. I think he's felt more comfortable coming back to the infield, being involved in the mix, being involved in the game on each and every pitch.
"He's doing the small things around the bag that are very encouraging,''
The progress he's making, the comfortable feeling he gives you playing the position . . . he's in good shape right now. He likes playing there, he's having fun and he's doing well.''
Part of the progress might be attributed to Ramirez's frame of mind. While he appeared isolated and distant in his disastrous switch to left field last year, Ramirez is returning to the infield, where he had played his entire pro career.
But beyond the familiarity that exists in the infield, there's the matter of increased responsibility Ramirez feels.
"In the outfield,'' said someone who knows Ramirez well, "he was out there on his own. Now, there's a connection to the three other [infielders]. I think that's been good for him. He feels a responsibility.''
Early in camp, there were doubts as to how successful the move would be. Ramirez clowned and joked around the bag -- repeatedly making exaggerated, sweeping motions with his arm as he caught throws, or at one point, sticking the baseball in his mouth to entertain fans. But in recent weeks, Ramirez has approached the challenge with more seriousness and his confidence seems to be increasing all the time.
It's not just the ability to pick throws or haul in high-and-wide throws, either. Ramirez has impressed the coaching staff with his attention to the smaller details.
"Some of the positioning, some of the reads on hops where he's coming through and feeds a pitcher . . . all that has looked good so far,'' said Farrell.
Ramirez has repeatedly said that he wants to build confidence with his infielders, the way that former teammate Adrian Gonzalez did when Ramirez was at short for the Dodgers and Gonzalez was at first.
"My infielders are comfortable -- that's my goal,'' said Ramirez. "All of my infielders, I want them to be comfortable. You've got Hanley at first. You don't have to worry about anything -- just throw it in this area (around his chest) and I've got you.''
Still to come for Ramirez: managing some of the nuances associated with positioning, especially with the Red Sox' habit of over-shifting infielders.
'There's going to be opportunity for that,'' said Farrell. "We'll be in some [situations] where some of his responsibilities shift. And there's a difference in what we do with some of our cutoffs and relays when we're in Fenway (compared to on the road). But that will all come through games played.''