Trimmer Ramirez goes to work with Rays

Manny Ramirez is ahead of schedule in his bid to re-establish

himself as one of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers.

The 12-time All-Star worked out with the Tampa Bay Rays for the

first time Thursday, arriving at spring training with a ”chip on

my shoulder” and motivated to prove he’s still a productive

player.

Ramirez agreed to a $2 million, one-year contract, joining

Johnny Damon as the biggest offseason acquisitions by the AL East

champions.

Slowed by injuries, the 38-year-old hit .298 with nine homers

and 42 RBIs in 90 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago

White Sox last season. He’ll be primarily a designated hitter with

Tampa Bay, but there’s a chance he’ll occasionally play left field,

too.

The Rays’ first full-squad workout isn’t until Monday. Ramirez,

who’ll turn 39 in May, reported Wednesday – five days early.

”Definitely, I’m looking forward to a new year and to go out

there and see what I can do,” the .313 career hitter with 555 home

runs in 17 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox,

Dodgers and White Sox said.

Although he helped the Dodgers make the playoffs in 2008 and

2009, his production has slipped since May 2009, when he was

suspended 50 games for using a banned female fertility drug.

Ramirez spent part of this winter training in Arizona – where he

trimmed 12 pounds from last year’s playing weight of 237 – and is

being counted on to add some punch to a lineup that lost Carl

Crawford and Carlos Pena to free agency.

He’ll likely bat cleanup, behind All-Star Evan Longoria.

”I just got a chip on my shoulder that I want to be here, I

want to get my stuff right and show people I can play,” Ramirez

said.

”I think every player during the offseason prepares to have a

great season. We love to compete, and it doesn’t matter what you

did last year, it’s a new year. It doesn’t matter who you are, you

have to go out there and show people you can do it.”

Manager Joe Maddon had dinner with Ramirez the night before he

and Damon officially signed with the Rays. In addition to being

excited about having Ramirez in camp early, he likes what’s heard

from the 2004 World Series MVP.

”I just see a guy who’s focused and is driven right now,”

Maddon said. ”I love the idea that he feels as though he needs to

go out there or wants to go out there and prove something. It’s

going to benefit him and us.”

Longoria worked out with Ramirez in Arizona during the offseason

and thinks he’s poised to have a big season.

After watching the Rays lose Crawford, Pena and eight other key

players from last season’s postseason roster through free agency or

trades, Longoria welcomed the addition of Ramirez and Damon, who

were once teammates in Boston.

”I’m excited. I think we all are,” Longoria said, adding that

he was confident all along that Rays executive vice president of

baseball operations Andrew Friedman would find a way help the

cost-conscious Rays remain competitive in baseball’s toughest

division.

”Andrew made it clear to me going into the offseason that

obviously we knew we were going to lose some guys, but that they

were going to make a big effort to continue the winning ways here

and get guys in here that want to win and are the right guys for

the Rays. I think they did a great job.”

Although Ramirez said he doesn’t care where Maddon decides to

put him in the batting order, Longoria relishes the prospect of

hitting one spot in front of a Manny who’s determined to show he’s

still one of the game’s better hitters.

”He had some injuries last year and didn’t really have one of

the best years of his career, but I think he’s out to prove that

he’s still the Manny Ramirez of old,” Longoria said. ”I’m hoping

that he is. I’m enthusiastic and looking forward to it.”

Ramirez insisted he isn’t driven by numbers and wouldn’t

speculate on what he would consider to be a good year beyond

staying healthy, which would lend to him being productive. He’s 45

homers shy of 600 for his career, but said that doesn’t mean a lot

to him, either.

”It don’t matter, man – 500, 600, 800 – because, you know, when

you die, none of that matters,” Ramirez said. ”They can make you

a statue, it doesn’t matter when you die.”