Hanley willing to put in extra time at shortstop

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One day before the required first workout, Hanley Ramirez was at Camelback Ranch taking ground balls. At shortstop.

That's where the Dodgers want him to play. Ramirez had been moved to third base by the Marlins last spring to make room for shortstop Jose Reyes, that is until everything went south in Miami. The Marlins then unloaded Ramirez and his $38 million contract to the Dodgers. Ramirez spent 56 of his 64 Dodgers starts at shortstop, where he wasn't a disaster but showed the rust of his transition.

The Dodgers have the talented and young Dee Gordon as a fallback, but they'd prefer Ramirez if he can elevate his defensive game. So the club already has him working with special assistant Juan Castro -- a proven magician with the glove -- to reclaim the range, first-step quickness and subtle tools that make shortstop the most unique of the skill positions.

"Last year it was different, moving in the middle of the season," said Ramirez. "I was pretty much a third baseman, and it's a different perspective. For me, I know I can do better than that, so I'm going to work in Spring Training. You never stop getting better."

Ramirez said he was "surprised a lot" at the challenge of moving back to shortstop last season.

"It's easier to go from shortstop to third than third to shortstop," he said. "My range is coming back. It's timing, different at third base and shortstop, different angles. This game is about timing and to be ready early."

Ideally, Ramirez would have played the position during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, but he was limited to only two games after a plate collision that bruised a shoulder, which he said is now healed.

He said he took ground balls at shortstop while he was serving as designated hitter in winter ball. But his practice time with the Dodgers this spring will be curtailed when he leaves for the World Baseball Classic, in which he is expected to share third base with Adrian Beltre while Reyes is the starting shortstop.

"I'm just happy to be there representing my country," Ramirez said of his Classic commitment. "In the Dominican Republic, it's about baseball everywhere you go. Everybody you know talks about baseball. That's expected from us -- to win everything."

But that puts him on something of a crash course to relearn his original position. If it doesn't work to the Dodgers' liking, Ramirez would move back to third, Luis Cruz would become a utility man instead of the starting third baseman, and Gordon would start at shortstop.

Ramirez said he'd be willing to go back to third base, if asked.

"Whatever they need me to do," he said. "I'm here for one reason, to try to win it all."

Ramirez's accommodating attitude about improving seems to be coinciding with management backing off from earlier criticism.

"I look at Hanley at shortstop, he's not really moving positions," said manager Don Mattingly. "I know everybody is talking about Hanley. We're going to see. I didn't think it was, it's not like it was just ugly. Some things were not sharp, other areas were pretty good. "He's got to work. I'm not letting anybody bash my guys, but if you're not working we've got trouble. If he's going to work, we'll be fine. I'm confident if Hanley will work, he'll be fine. He puts the time and and gives us the effort. If he doesn't, we'll do something different, but starting out that's what we're looking at."

While Ramirez seems willing to make defensive changes, he hasn't backed away from considering himself more of a run producer than a batting champ. He hit .342 in 2009 to lead the league and .300 in 2010, but has slipped to .243 and .257 the last two seasons.

"Hit .340 with 15 homers? No," he said. ".310 with 20-plus? Why not?" he said. "Hit in the middle of the lineup, get RBIs and see what happens.

"The front office got the best guys on the field, and now it's up to us to do the job, stay together and play hard every day."