A's can't get Manny back soon enough
Web linksBaseball blog: On-Base Perception
OAKLAND, Calif. -- He's not far away, about 90 miles up Interstate 80 in Sacramento. That doesn't seem like much, but the distance Manny Ramirez still has to cover until he's back in the majors -- if, indeed, he ever gets there -- is greater than it appears.
Ramirez is playing for the Triple-A River Cats, the top farm team of the Oakland Athletics, as he regains his timing and waits for Wednesday -- his 40th birthday, by the way -- which will represent the end of a second 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
Playing his first game in Sacramento Friday night after two on the road, Ramirez went 1-for-4 and helped push attendance to 9,725 at 14,500-seat Raley Field, larger than some A's crowds at the O.co Coliseum.
Ramirez, with his dreadlocks, his history (555 major-league home runs) and his reputation (Manny being Manny), is a draw. But where the A's truly could use him is at the plate.
The Athletics were hitting a collective .210 entering Saturday's game against the Yankees, worst in the major leagues by a considerable margin. The Pittsburgh Pirates were at the bottom of the National League at .217; in the American League, the Seattle Mariners were closest to the A's at .229.
So the A's wait for Manny and hope.
"He's one of the best righthanded hitters in the game,'' A's catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "To have him in the lineup would give us an extra dimension. It would be nice to have him here.''
The lineup Oakland started Saturday had only one player, Josh Reddick at .272, hitting above .250.
Cuban hotshot Yoenis Cespedes, whom Oakland signed in March, and veteran infielder Brandon Inge, released by Detroit, are on the disabled list. Inge, in fact, is rehabbing in Sacramento.
"He would be a great guy to have,'' Inge said of Ramirez. "More than anything, we could use his presence in the lineup and in the clubhouse. We have a young team, so having him around would be a good thing for morale around here.
"Plus he's been in the post-season. He knows how to play the game. Whether he gets off to a quick start or a slow start, has success or not, it would be good to have him around this group of guys.''
Ramirez had 20 at-bats and five hits, all singles, through Friday. That .250 average doesn't concern A's management. The 20 at-bats does.
"We're expecting him to have 40 before he comes up,'' A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We're encouraged by his games, and we'd certainly like to see some semblance of the old Manny, but we won't be able to make sure until he has the proper number of at-bats.''
Manny calls his minor-league appearances extended spring training. "What I'm doing,'' he told the Sacramento Bee, "is just taking a lot of pitches, getting myself ready and, you know, just leaving everything to God. He knows when I'm going to come up. I ain't got no worries. Just take it one day at a time.''
Ramirez, who has a career average of .312, started the 2011 season, his 19th in the majors, with Tampa Bay. After five games, he retired after testing positive for PEDs and being given a 100-day suspension. That was reduced to 50 games, and Oakland signed him four months ago.
His return to organized baseball has created an unusual situation.
"Most of the other players [on opposing teams] want to get an autograph, a picture,'' the River Cats' Michael Taylor told the Bee. "Fans do what fans do. Some cheer, some boo.''