First career five-hit game extends Aramis' tear
Cubs third baseman batting .563 during 12-game hit streak
CHICAGO -- Pitchers aren't throwing Aramis Ramirez first-pitch fastballs any more. Why would they, when he leads the Major Leagues with 12 first-pitch home runs?
Fastballs, sliders, changeups, it doesn't seem to matter to the Cubs' third baseman.
Ramirez collected a career-high five hits Tuesday night, extending his hitting streak to a season-high 12 games, in the Cubs' 5-4 loss to the Braves.
"I feel pretty good," Ramirez said, understating his latest offensive surge. "The last guy [Craig Kimbrel], he's got good stuff. I saw the ball well off him. It's one of those situations, you get a good pitch, you hit it hard."
Kimbrel not only has good stuff, he now has 40 saves, tying a Major League record for the most by a rookie pitcher. But Ramirez didn't blink, smacking a two-out single to right for hit No. 5. He scampered to second on Jason Heyward's error.
"I was so afraid of him," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Ramirez in the ninth. "He's been hotter than anybody in Major League Baseball. He blooped one in there and then was in scoring position."
For the game, Ramirez singled with one out and one on in the first; singled to lead off the fourth; hit a two-run double in the fifth; singled in the seventh; and singled in the ninth.
"He is locked in," Cubs manager Mike Quade said of his third baseman, who is batting .563 (27-for-48) during his 12-game streak. "He's got an excellent approach, and we've seen him hot here in Chicago before, but I don't think he's ever been hotter than this. As I always say, don't change a thing, stay hot. There's a lot of baseball left."
Ramirez now has five career hitting streaks of 11 or more games, and the current stretch is his longest since an 18-game stint from Sept. 23, 2006-April 20, 2007.
This was his first five-hit game; he has 22 four-hit efforts. This season, Ramirez has had three or more hits in a game 13 times, the most since he also had a baker's dozen in 2005.
Ask him what's the key and Ramirez keeps it simple. He's seeing the ball well.
"That's all it is," he said. "When you get your pitch, don't miss it. This is the big leagues, and they're not going to make many mistakes. When they do make mistakes, you have to make them pay."
He's done that with his first-pitch homers, which account for half of his season total of 24. At first, he was seeing fastballs. Not anymore.
"They're throwing first-pitch sliders a couple of times," Ramirez said, then complimented the Braves. "Pretty much, they're going to come right at you, and that's why they're good."
Last season was a struggle for the the third baseman, who battled injuries and batted .241 in 124 games. This year, he's healthy. Look out.
"Last year was a tough year," Ramirez said. "That's what I say all the time -- if I'm healthy, the numbers will be there."
He also will be a free agent at season's end. It's not guaranteed that he'll return to the Cubs, especially with the recent departure of Jim Hendry as general manager. The two were close. That's a story for the offseason. Ramirez would be the top free-agent third baseman on the market, and this month has been a great audition. So far, he's hitting .446 (33-for-74) in August.
Ramirez also is closing in on another milestone. He is one home run away from 25, and would become the fourth Cubs player with at least six seasons of 25 homers and 25 doubles. The list includes Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, who has seven 25-25 seasons; Billy Williams (seven times); and Ryne Sandberg (six).
Reminded that a five-hit night is tough against any team, but especially the Braves, who have one of the best pitching staffs in the game, Ramirez laughed.
"You don't have to tell me that -- I know," he said. "They've got [a big] lead right now [in the Wild Card race], and that's the reason. They have a really good pitching staff."
And right now, the Cubs have a hot-hitting third baseman.
"What a night for Ramy," Quade said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.