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White Sox’s Ramirez poised for bounce-back season

(MCT) — GLENDALE, Ariz. — With his sore left wrist completely healed and his parents now settled in the United States, Alexei Ramirez has plenty to look forward to this season.

The White Sox would be even more delighted if their shortstop finally can break through at the plate in the manner they envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $32.5 million extension through 2015.

Ramirez has produced consistent numbers since joining the Sox from Cuba in 2008. But the Sox believe better pitch selection can improve his dismal .287 on-base percentage last year, and a willingness to hit the ball to the opposite field could lift his career-low .265 batting average.

“You can tweak (Ramirez’s aggressiveness) to a certain extent, but I don’t see him all of a sudden taking a bunch of pitches and walking 60 or 70 times a year,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You can move it around. He got to a point last year where he was pulling the ball only and was susceptible to off-speed stuff. And when he did have spurts when he was going well, he was going the other way and covering the strike zone better.”

Ramirez, 31, seemed lukewarm to Ventura’s suggestions.

“My game is not going to change,” said Ramirez, a career .276 hitter with a .316 on-base percentage. “But I’m aware I need to hit the ball the other way a little more and try to do that. But my game is not going to change.”

Later Ramirez admitted that he needs “a little more patience at the plate. That’s something I’ll continue to get better at.”

Ramirez’s career-low nine home runs were offset by his 73 RBIs — tops among American League shortstops and his second highest RBI total since he drove in 77 in his rookie season in 2008. With A.J. Pierzynski gone, the Sox need Ramirez to produce near the bottom of the order, although Ventura said he would experiment during spring training by batting Ramirez higher on occasion.

The addition of infielder Jeff Keppinger, who is projected as the Sox’s No. 2 hitter, lessens the temptation to move Ramirez up.

Ramirez, a notorious slow starter, actually hit better in the first half (.266) than the second half (.264) last year, but Ramirez was bothered by a swollen left wrist suffered in a collision with center fielder Alejandro De Aza at Texas on July 27 that bothered him for the final two months.

The swelling has subsided, and so have his worries since his parents left Cuba to join him on June 25. Ramirez spent the holidays with his family for the first time since he left Cuba in 2007.

“I’m very happy to have my parents here, but I’m also looking forward to the remote possibility that I can go back to Cuba with all the new laws,” said Ramirez, aware that former teammate Jose Contreras visited Cuba last month. “But I’m here to play ball, and that’s what I’m here to do.”

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