Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez fields a grounder during a workout before… (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated…)
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez will begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment Saturday night and could be back with the Dodgers next week, nearly a month sooner than expected.
Even that's not soon enough for Ramirez, though.
"It hasn't been easy, watching the games from the bench," he said after an extended round of batting and fielding drills Friday. "I like to be in there competing. I'm looking forward to being back.
"I can't wait."
When Ramirez underwent surgery March 22 to repair a tendon in his right thumb, torn during the World Baseball Classic championship game, doctors predicted he would be sidelined two months. But if he has no setbacks in his two games with the Dodgers' Cal League affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga, he could be back in the lineup before the current homestand ends Wednesday.
"I want him to be ready to play. And to be able to play at a level that it's natural," Manager Don Mattingly said. "Not where he has to think about throwing and how he's going to grip the ball and things like that."
Swinging the bat hasn't been a problem for Ramirez, a former batting champion and a three-time All-Star. But a protective brace Ramirez wears at the base of his injured thumb has forced him to alter the way he grips the ball and that has affected his throwing.
"It's a little funky," Mattingly admitted.
But both Ramirez and Mattingly dismissed the idea of using Ramirez at third base, where the throw across the diamond is shorter.
"The splint that he plays with has allowed him to do a lot of stuff. But he's still playing with a splint," Mattingly said. "And that really affects the movement of the thumb. So obviously it's not natural.
"He's gotten pretty used to throwing with it."
No place like home
Few players were happier to get home than left fielder Carl Crawford, who entered Friday hitting a team-best .424 at Dodger Stadium, 210 points higher than his average on the road.
And though Crawford went two for 19 (.105) on the six-game trip to Baltimore and New York, Mattingly said his approach is the same one he used to go nine for 20 (.450) in his last five home games.
"Carl's fine for me. I don't think we expected him to hit .400," the manager said of Crawford, who homered in his second at-bat Friday. "He's hit a couple of balls on the nose. Early on everything seemed to drop for him. This last little stretch it hasn't been the same type of luck."
Left-hander Chris Capuano, who went on the disabled list 10 days ago with a strained left calf, is scheduled to pitch a simulated game Sunday. If that goes well, Mattingly said Capuano would make at least one minor league start before returning to the active roster.
In the meantime Mattingly plans to keep Stephen Fife, Saturday's starter, in Capuano's spot in the rotation.