Manny's tour stops in Lake Elsinore
LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. -- Manny Ramirez went about his baseball business Saturday night, going through pregame stretching, shagging balls in left field and taking batting practice.
His routine didn't include talking to reporters as the Los Angeles Dodgers slugger resumed his minor league rehab stint. He replied, "No, gracias" when asked if he would speak.
Ramirez went 2-for-2 with a walk before leaving the ballpark after the fifth inning. He's preparing to rejoin the Dodgers on July 3 at San Diego after serving a 50-game steroid suspension.
He homered in his first at-bat, sending the second pitch from left-hander Nick Schmidt into left field after being introduced to a smattering of boos mixed with cheers.
He batted leadoff as the designated hitter for the Single A Inland Empire 66ers in his third rehab game. He wore a long white sleeve on his left arm.
Fans chanted "Manny! Manny!" during his second at-bat. Facing two strikes, Ramirez drew a walk after Schmidt uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the runner on first to advance, and then scored to increase the 66ers' lead to 3-0 in the third.
Ramirez singled sharply up the middle to lead off the fifth, with Schmidt just stepping out of the way of the ball. One out later, Trayvon Robinson flied out to center, but Ramirez had already started running to second. He scrambled to get back to first, sliding in behind the tag of Matt Clark to end the inning.
Then he departed the ballpark, stopping briefly to sign autographs.
"Did anyone hear where the home run was hit? Hopefully it was to center field," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said after Saturday night's 5-1 loss to Seattle.
"But as I've said, the whole thing about him is at-bats," he added. "I mean, the fact that he hit a home run makes me feel good. But it doesn't matter to me what his numbers are. The main thing we're interested in is just getting him comfortable up at the plate and getting him back in rhythm.
"Every at-bat, whatever the result, it is going to prepare him for what he's going to have to do next week."
Ramirez hasn't spoken to the media since Wednesday, when he played his second of two games at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Inland Empire manager Carlos Subero said before the game that Ramirez was expected to play long enough to get four at-bats. He said Ramirez likely would play left field Sunday when the 66ers return home to San Bernardino.
"The basic thing is that he gets whatever he needs to get ready for his first appearance in the big leagues," Subero said.
Subero said his opinion of Ramirez didn't change after the suspension was announced.
"The talent's there," he said. "You can't just get somebody and say, 'All right, go ahead, get an at-bat and hit a home run.' I don't think nobody would be able to do that. You got have a talent, and he has a talent to be a great ballplayer."
Ramirez was the star attraction at Lake Elsinore Diamond, where the afternoon high hit 106 degrees and a hot breeze failed to offer relief from the stifling conditions.
The 66ers were the visiting team against the Lake Elsinore Storm, the San Diego Padres' farm club. The Storm's furry green mascot named Thunder added dreadlocks to his costume in a nod to Ramirez's presence.
Several fans donned dreadlocks under blue bandanas, while others wore Ramirez jerseys in the sellout crowd of 7,500. The only available tickets sold for $6 and allowed fans to sit on a grassy berm in the right-field corner of the cozy stadium.
Ramirez walked by autograph seekers when he arrived at the ballpark 2½ hours before game time in a white SUV. He entered the dugout and offered handshakes to several of his teammates and greetings of "Que pasa?"
During batting practice, Ramirez sent one pitch over the wall in left center, while popping up others and sending some balls deep into the outfield. The Dodgers sent assistant general manager Kim Ng and the team's PR director to Lake Elsinore for the game, along with a security guard.
Kids hung over a dugout railing with balls and pens in hand, squealing for Ramirez to oblige them when he came close to grab some bats. But he didn't.
Later, though, Ramirez signed autographs for fans who swarmed a railing along the right side of the dugout.
Ramirez wasn't the only famous name in the 66ers' lineup.
He became the temporary teammate of Preston Mattingly, the 21-year-old son of 1985 AL MVP and current Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly, and Scott Van Slyke, the 22-year-old son of former Pittsburgh star and current Detroit first base coach Andy Van Slyke.
Mattingly yielded his usual leadoff spot to Ramirez, although he retained his position in left since Ramirez was DHing.
"It's really awesome to be able to play with him," Mattingly said. "It's good to learn from him, watch him hit. Obviously, he's one of the greatest hitters of all time. My dad said, 'Watch him and see what he does.'"
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
MANNY RAMIREZ SUSPENDED 50 GAMES
Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy.