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DODGERS FYI

Fans welcome back Manny Ramirez

Slugger gets a standing ovation in first home game after suspension.

July 17, 2009|Mario Aguirre and Jim Peltz

Seems you can go home again, to Mannywood at least.

In Manny Ramirez's first game back at Dodger Stadium since serving a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy, fans voiced an apologetic and supporting sentiment, all but excusing the star slugger for missing nearly one-third of the season.

All was well Thursday night when Ramirez's first at-bat was met with a standing ovation and no indication of displeasure from fans.

And a spot check of Dodgers loyalists showed they could not deliver any type of barb without quickly rationalizing Ramirez's suspension.

"I think it was a really stupid thing to do," said Steve Davidson, 53, of Palos Verdes Estates, "but everyone makes mistakes."

Davidson, who attended the game with his 8-year-old son, said he opposed Ramirez's violation as a father, not a fan.

"He doesn't quite understand what the whole steroid issue is," Davidson said of his son.

"Kind of bothered me because he plays Little League . . . and I have to explain to him that Manny's going to miss 50 games because he used a performance-enhancing drug or illegal substance. It's kind of difficult."

There were no banners or placards either for or against Ramirez, but there were plenty of fans wearing "99" T-shirts and fake dreadlocks in Ramirez's honor.

One of those fans was Robert Huitron, 28, of Fontana, who said "it was a surprise" that Ramirez violated baseball's drug policy "because you always thought that he was one of the guys that was above that because he has so much natural talent.

"But what could you do? No one's innocent anymore. Disappointed, disappointed. You could be a little mad, but at the end of the day you know he's a great player and he's going to get us there" to the World Series.

Before the game, Ramirez predicted he would be received with open arms at Chavez Ravine.

"I'm excited," Ramirez said as he sat next to Manager Joe Torre in the dugout. "These are the best fans in the world and they're behind me, so I'm looking forward to this game. I'm ready. I can't wait."

Torre was holding his normal pregame meeting with reporters when Ramirez came out of the clubhouse and sat next to him.

"There goes all the attention I get," Torre joked.

Ramirez also was asked whether he wanted the spotlight from his suspension to fade away. "No, actually I like it," he said. "It makes me want to do better."

After Ramirez left his side, Torre said the fans "understand he did something wrong and he paid his price and they look forward to watching him play baseball."

"Nobody says it's OK to violate rules," Torre said. "He took his punishment."

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Kuo's return?

Left-handed pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo said he felt he was "pretty close" to returning to the majors.

"It could be next week, it could be in a couple of weeks," Kuo said.

A key part of the Dodgers' bullpen last season, Kuo went on the disabled list May 2 because of a strained elbow. He had undergone four operations on the elbow.

Kuo, who was in town to be examined by the Dodgers' medical staff, has pitched twice for triple-A Albuquerque as part of a minor league rehabilitation assignment.

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Short hops

Relief pitcher Cory Wade was placed on the 15-day disabled list for a strained right shoulder and infielder Blake DeWitt was recalled from Albuquerque. . . . Closer Jonathan Broxton, dealing with an irritated nerve in the big toe of his right foot that kept him from playing in the All-Star game, reported no problems after tossing practice pitches before Thursday's game. "I didn't feel it today," he said. "It's a lot better." But when Torre was asked if this could be a problem for Broxton all season, Torre replied: "It wouldn't surprise me."

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Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.

mario.aguirre@latimes.com

james.peltz@latimes.com

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DODGERS TONIGHT

VS. HOUSTON

When: 7.

Where: Dodger Stadium.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 790, 930.

Pitchers: Chad Billingsley vs. Roy Oswalt.

Update: Billingsley goes for his 10th win of the season with a 2-0 lifetime record against the Astros in two starts, and a 2.57 earned-run average. He had no decision in his most recent outing a week ago in Milwaukee, when he gave up five runs in five innings against the Brewers. Oswalt, meanwhile, had no decision in his first outing against the Dodgers this year when Houston beat the Dodgers, 6-5, at Minute Maid Park on April 22. The right-hander is 5-3 against the Dodgers with a 3.91 ERA.

-- Jim Peltz

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