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Manny Ramirez's spring debut is a success for Dodgers

The recently signed slugger singles, walks twice and scores a run in Dodgers' 4-3 win over Texas. And he says his hamstring feels fine.

March 14, 2009|Jim Peltz

PHOENIX — Once again wearing his crisp, white uniform with the blue "99" stenciled on the back, the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez finally stepped into the batter's box again in a game -- and couldn't find a pitch to hit.

Ramirez walked in his first two plate appearances Friday, taking eight pitches before he even swung the bat, and then singled before leaving in the fifth inning of the Dodgers' 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers at Camelback Ranch.

Three times up, three times on. And so Ramirez, late to spring training after signing a two-year, $45-million contract, was back in action.

"I said, 'You haven't lost any of your flair, from last year to this year,' " Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said.

Despite his perfect on-base percentage, Ramirez complained about his timing at the plate. But he said his legs -- a balky hamstring had delayed his Cactus League debut for one day -- felt fine.

"It takes time, that's why we're here in spring training, to get a lot of at-bats, make a lot of mistakes and get it out of your system and move on to the season," Ramirez said.

Batting third as the designated hitter, Ramirez walked twice against Texas starter Doug Mathis, then singled to center in the fifth off Elizardo Ramirez before being replaced by a pinch-runner.

He walked the first time after taking a strike and four balls and drawing a loud cheer from the crowd of 8,389. Ramirez took three more balls from Mathis in his second at-bat before weakly fouling off two pitches and drawing ball four.

"I was ready for my pitch, they didn't give it to me, so I walked, no hard feelings," Ramirez said.

After his first walk, Ramirez moved to second on a single by Andre Ethier, reached third on a single by James Loney, then scored when Texas second baseman German Duran bobbled a throw from Elvis Andrus on a grounder hit by Casey Blake.

Ramirez, 36, had planned to play his first spring-training game Thursday but was scratched from the lineup after experiencing stiffness in his left hamstring after morning running drills.

That meant fans at Camelback Ranch's main diamond had to wait until Friday to get their first look at Ramirez, and 15 minutes before the game they stood against the guard rail on the left-field line to watch him stretch and jog in the outfield.

"I'm pretty happy to see him back," said Dan Lopez, a 38-year-old Mesa, Ariz., resident and spring-game season ticket holder who was wearing a Ramirez T-shirt. "They need him on the offense."

Dodgers catcher Russell Martin felt the same way. "[It's] good to see him, good to have him in the clubhouse," said Martin, who made his spring debut Thursday after playing for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

Ramirez joked before the game about hitting too many ground balls in batting practice. "The groundskeepers, they're mad at me because I'm messing up their infield," he said.

Ramirez said he might play again in today's game with the Milwaukee Brewers, but Torre nixed the idea after seeing his slugger run the bases three times, saying Ramirez might play in the outfield Sunday.

The Dodgers broke a 3-3 tie with Texas and won the game in the bottom of the ninth inning when Delwyn Young's single drove in Jason Repko from third.

Texas had jumped on Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley. Josh Hamilton hit a two-run home run to center field and the next batter, Nelson Cruz, slammed a homer over the left-field fence.

Billingsley, who came into the game having given up only one run in seven innings this spring, gave up the three runs and four hits in 2 1/3 innings.

Short hops

Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to start for the Dodgers today against Milwaukee, with Jason Schmidt starting Sunday against the Colorado Rockies. . . . A Ramirez bobble-head will be made available to the first 50,000 fans when the Dodgers play the Cincinnati Reds on July 22 at Dodger Stadium.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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