Before he takes the field, White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez always seems to be at ease.
It is not uncommon to see Ramirez smoking a cigar and relaxing in the dugout hours before the first pitch,
On the field, at least last season, Ramirez didn't seem to be comfortable.
"I think he got away from believing in himself last year," said Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto. "He was so hard on himself."
In each if his first four seasons as the White Sox' starting shortstop, Ramirez got off to slow starts with the bat.
Last year, Ramirez made it 5-for-5. He was batting .228 with just 1 home run on June 1, but the 31-year-old infielder got it going after that and finished with a .265 batting average.
Ramirez also drove in 73 runs from the bottom of the order, and his 20 stolen bases were a career high.
But Ramirez seemed to press while trying to hit home runs. After averaging 17 homers in his first four seasons with the Sox, Ramirez hit just 9 in 2012.
"When you look at his numbers, his numbers were fine," Manto said. "He had a lot of RBI, he had some decent home production numbers, but he just put so much pressure on himself. It's hard to say just relax, but if he just stays himself, that's enough. I think he sets his own goals a little higher than they need to be."
When he reported to spring training in Glendale, Ariz., last week, Ramirez told reporters he played the final two months of the season with a sore left wrist after colliding with center fielder Alejandro De Aza in a July 27 game against Texas.
Ramirez also said he needs to be much more patient after drawing just 16 walks in 593 at-bats.
"The way I prepare, every year you learn something different," Ramirez told reporters through a translator. "The way I prepare for pitchers and use strike zone discipline, just be a little more patience at the plate. That's something I'll continue to get better at.
"I felt I reinforced every aspect of hitting. I know there's room for improvement in different areas, but nothing specific. Just continue to do my routine and reinforcing all the stuff I've been working on. I feel this is going to be a good year."
Defensively, Ramirez remains one of the best shortstops in the game. He still has exceptional range and his 12 errors (in 673 total chances) were a career low.
While he is still extremely thin at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Ramirez is remarkably durable.
He has played 158 games in each of the last two seasons and figure to carry a similar workload again this year.
Rule 5 addition Angel Sanchez is Ramirez's likely backup this season, and the White Sox are also looking at prospects Carlos Sanchez and Tyler Saladino this spring.