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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hanley Ramirez homering at record pace for Red Sox -- will weak pitching make it moot?

That ball is gone -- and so is the helmet. (AP)

Jimmie Foxx never did it. Neither did Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, or Mo Vaughn.

When Hanley Ramirez smoked a R.A. Dickey pitch into the left-field Monster seats at Fenway Park last night, it marked his 10th home run of April. Ramirez is tied atop the majors in homers with Nelson Cruz of Seattle, and just one player in Red Sox history has ever hit that many in the season's first month: David Ortiz in 2006.

That was the year Ortiz set a team record with 54 homers, but his prodigious slugging was not enough to save a pitching-thin Boston team from a third-place finish. Ramirez may meet a fate similar to his Dominican countryman this summer.

Although Rick Porcello pitched seven two-hit innings against the heavy-hitting Blue Jays last night in a 4-1 win, Red Sox starters have the worst ERA of any rotation in the major leagues.  

Slugger's Hug: Ortiz greets Ramirez. (USA Today)

Still, while pitching remains a major concern for Boston, Ramirez has quickly become a fan favorite with his prodigious slugging.

In addition to his 10 homers through 20 games, he is also tied with Cruz atop the AL with 22 RBI, while his .659 slugging percentage and .999 OPS place him among the Top 5. To put his hot start in perspective, Ramirez hit just 13 homers all of last season, and he is already nearly one-third of the way to his career high of 33 (set in 2008).

Making his performance all the more exciting is how he's doing it. Ramirez has a robust swing that often causes his helmet to fly off, and he has run out several home runs this year -- including last night's shot -- with nothing atop his colorful cornrows but a skull cap.

He did wrap a homer around the Pesky Pole on Tuesday night, but most of Hanley's howitzers have been no-doubters that fly off his bat even faster than they are delivered by the pitcher. Ramirez's Wednesday shot was estimated to have traveled 106 mph from the plate to the Monster seats, and some are predicting he could hit 50 for Boston hitting in a stacked lineup with Ortiz and fellow newcomer Pablo Sandoval.

Will an offense be enough? (Boston Globe)

The big question is whether all of these hitters will be enough to offset an ace-less Boston rotation that has had trouble getting through the middle of games. Porcello is the only Red Sox starter averaging six or more innings per game, and the team predicted by many to be a World Series contender is a so-so 12-10.

Red Sox fans hope that Rodriguez not only keeps knocking them out, but that come August and September his home runs will still have meaning as Boston seeks a return to the playoffs.

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