- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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It has been obscured somewhat by all the hype of the New York Yankees being in town, all the forays into ancient history in an attempt to breathe new life into this long-dormant rivalry and all the media speculation about whether Joe Torre and Alex Rodriguez were going to kiss and make up -- they did make up, having a brief conversation behind the batting cage at 3:35 p.m. on Sunday while a bunch of television cameras captured the moment, but they didn't appear to kiss -- but Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez has suddenly gotten very hot at the plate.
Ramirez entered the series finale with the Yankees riding a season-long, eight-game hitting streak, during which he was batting .400 (12 for 30), and he was hitting a team-high .347 (16 for 75) during June.
The fact the hitting streak consisted almost entirely of singles -- there was one double and one home run mixed in -- didn't seem to be of much concern to anyone other than fans who wish Ramirez would go deep with the regularity that he once did.
In short, Ramirez's recent performance isn't bad for a 38-year-old man who clearly is in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career.
"I think his at-bats have been very high-quality," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "I think timing is a big part of it and the fact that he is hitting line drives. He has a tendency to get a little long [in his swing] or start a little too soon, but I think it has been good for him the way he has been going about it. You're seeing him hit balls up the rightfield line or to right-center. That keeps him from starting too soon.
"He has such good balance, and that doesn't leave you. Maybe you get older, but you know when you can take liberties even though you're getting older."
Ramirez also began the day with the third-highest career batting average (.323) against the Yankees of all-time, just ahead of teammate Garret Anderson's .319, and his 55 career home runs were the third-most of any hitter against the Yankees.
Playing like an All-Star
While the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton appears to be a lock for the National League All-Star team -- his 0.83 ERA ranks third among all big league relievers and first among NL closers -- he might not be the team's only reliever who deserves consideration.
Although middle relievers rarely get strong consideration for the All-Star Game, Torre said that if NL manager Charlie Manuel were to ask him, he would strongly recommend Hong-Chih Kuo. The lefty, who struck out Derek Jeter with two men on in the sixth inning of Saturday's win over the Yankees and wound up retiring all five of the batters he faced, has a 1.16 ERA through 23 appearances, but he has actually pitched even better than that.
Kuo has been scored upon in just two of his appearances, his past five inherited runners have failed to score, and left-handed batters are 0 for 25 against him for the season.
"You're not going to bring in a lot of left-handers to pitch to Derek Jeter," Torre said. "When you look at some of his numbers, he has pitched beyond those numbers, but his numbers are still pretty impressive."
Torre seemed to indicate he would stop short of proactively calling Manuel to recommend Kuo, especially now that All-Star managers have less discretion than they had in the past.
Kemp gets a break
Matt Kemp, who had started all but one of the Dodgers' previous 74 games in center field this season but continues to struggle offensively, was out of the starting lineup, with Reed Johnson playing there instead. Torre declined to elaborate much, but the reason for the decision was fairly obvious.
"He has played a lot," Torre said. "I just decided to give him a day."
Kemp began the day hitting .196 in June, with two home runs and 10 RBIs, and he had struck out in eight of his past 14 plate appearances.
Also, Ronnie Belliard got a rare start at second base. Torre didn't want to start Blake DeWitt there because Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte is holding left-handed batters to a .158 average this year, with 30 strikeouts in 95 at-bats. And he didn't want to start Jamey Carroll because he was hitting .133 (2 for 15) for his career against Pettitte.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com