Manny set for return as Dodgers face Pads
Manny Ramirez's much-anticipated return to Los Angeles Dodgers' lineup won't come at home, but close enough to it that his reception might not be entirely negative.
The dreadlocked slugger returns after serving a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy Friday night in the opener of a three-game road series against the San Diego Padres.
Petco Park is expected to be sold out with plenty of Dodger fans making the roughly two-hour drive south to see the return of one of the majors' best and most enigmatic players. That support could counter the expected boos from the home fans who are eager to taunt Ramirez.
"I think the Dodger-Padre series down here always brings a little bit more energy but I think this will be heightened because of Manny, because he is one of the true lightning rods in the game today," San Diego manager Bud Black said.
Ramirez was hitting .348 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 27 games when he was suspended on May 7. There was evidence Ramirez used human chorionic gonadotropin, a fertility drug that's banned by baseball, a person familiar with the suspension told The Associated Press.
Los Angeles (50-29) was 21-8 and held a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL West at the time. The Dodgers, though, didn't suffer without Ramirez, going 29-21 and increased their division lead to 7 1/2 games.
The Dodgers' lineup, however, should be happy to see Ramirez back after scoring eight runs while losing three of their last five contests. Los Angeles averaged 5.5 runs with Ramirez, but slumped to 4.4 since his suspension.
The Dodgers beat Colorado 1-0 on Wednesday in their most recent contest.
"We've been lucky to win a lot of close games," manager Joe Torre told the Dodgers' official Web site. "We've made the most out of the runs we've scored. Hopefully, Manny will give us a more consistent offense. I think the presence he brings to the lineup is a security blanket for the rest of the guys."
Ramirez, who largely avoided the media while making a handful of minor league starts in preparation for his return, seems eager to let his play speak for himself.
"I didn't kill nobody, I didn't rape nobody, so that's it, I'm just going to come and play the game," he said.
His return to left field means Juan Pierre goes back to being the team's fourth outfielder despite batting .322 in Ramirez's absence.
Ramirez is batting .227 (5 for 22) with a homer and four RBIs this season against San Diego (34-44), and will first face a pitcher he's enjoyed success against in Chad Gaudin (4-6, 4.97 ERA).